Few people in 1830 believed that there might exist an Italian nation. There were eight several states in the peninsula, each with distinct laws and traditions. No one had had the desire or the resources to revive Napoleon’s partial experiment in unification. The settlement of 1814-15 had merely restored regional divisions, with the added disadvantage that the decisive victory of Austria over France temporarily hindered Italians in playing off their former oppressors against each other. Austria now owned Venetia as well as Lombardy, and indirectly controlled the central duchies, Tuscany, Lucca, Modena and Parma; and Austrian forces were at hand to quell the insurrections of Naples and Piedmont in 1821. Italians who, like Foscolo and Rossetti, harboured patriotic sentiments, were driven into exile. The largest Italian state, the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with its eight million inhabitants, seemed aloof and indifferent: Sicily and Naples had once formed part of Spain, and had always been foreign to the rest of Italy. The common people in each region, and even the intellectual elite, spoke their mutually unintelligible dialects and lacked the least vestiges of national consciousness. They wanted good government, not self-government, and had welcomed Napoleon and the French as more equitable and efficient than their native dynasties.
In the forty years after 1830 the peninsula was to be unified under a single government. This risorgimento of Italy did not follow any preconceived plan, and many various ideological, political and economic forces aided it, directly or indirectly. A strong movement for economic and governmental reform already existed among the ruling classes of the ancien regime, particularly among the military and civilian officials who had served under the French. Secret societies had grown up whose type was the carboneria, their members pledged to revolt with signatures written in blood. Everywhere the peasants were watching for an opportunity to rise and better their lot. Many merchants wanted a wider national market and the removal of internal trade barriers (of which there were twenty-two along the River Po alone); in their eyes the new railway age demanded an interlocking system of communications, and standardisation of the different measures and currencies which caused so much delay, error and fraud. Progressive landowners as well as tradesmen and manufacturers were attracted to the idea of an Italian Zollverein, and to a general adoption of the metric system. All these many incentives towards change contributed to the administrative, political, social and economic revolution which accompanied the making of Italy. Deeper still there was a cultural movement which diffused a common literary language, as recently refined by Manzoni, and promoted a habit of retrospection in history and fiction to the past greatness of Italy, to folk memories of the Lombard League and the Guelphs fighting against German invaders. An educated minority was thus at hand to concentrate present grievances behind the struggle first for individual freedom, then for independence of the foreigner, and finally for national unity.
The external context of this struggle was the conflict between France and Austria. Tangled diplomatic situations needed bold statesmanship for their exploitation, and also the armed force of a state prepared to annex its neighbours and so aggregate a greater Italian kingdom. Such a nucleus was Sardinia and Piedmont, a state which was largely French in language and culture and contained but one-fifth of Italy’s population. King Charles Albert, who ruled at Turin from 1831 to 1849, at first flouted his destiny by linking Piedmont with the reactionaries against the liberals, making a close alliance with Austria against France. In time, however, circumstances compelled him to quarrel with Austria, the predominant Italian power. In 1814, instead of obtaining further territory in France or Switzerland as hoped, Piedmont had almost casually picked up the Italian coastal province of Liguria: henceforward a southern outlet through Genoa and Savona at last made her a maritime, industrial, and essentially Italian state. The unification of Liguria with Sardinia, Piedmont and Savoy was, too, a distinct step towards the defeat of regional particularism, that primary obstacle to Italian unity. The radical merchants of Genoa had protested angrily against subjection to Turin; but before very long their liberal and national ideas were to engulf the narrow court aristocracy of the capital.
The French revolution of 1830 detonated a train of small insurrections in 1831 up and down Italy. If they failed, it was because they were inspired by too many uncoordinated aims and interests. At one extreme the ambitious Francis IV, duke of Modena, had hoped that revolution might be used for enlarging his own domain. At the other, the silk merchant Menotti had had visions of national unity based on Rome. The only practical outcome was a brief displacement of several governments in central Italy. Francis fled from Modena in February, Marie Louise from Parma, and the papal pro-legate from Bologna. Many other cities also raised the tricolour flag and formed provisional governments. But instead of joining a common front, their instinctive municipalism came uppermost: Piacenza remained loyal out of rivalry with Parma, Reggio was suspicious of Modena, Genoa of Turin, and Sicily of Naples. The new dictator of Modena forbade extension of the revolution to Massa and Carrara, cravenly hoping to win Austrian favour by a pacific policy, and for the same reason Bologna argued that ‘the affairs of Modena are not our concern’. In March 1831 the Austrians crossed the Po to restore the three former governments; but when Zucchi retreated from Modena, he and his 700 rebels were disarmed as ‘foreigners’ by the provisional government of Bologna. In this latter town, deputies from Ancona, Perugia, Ravenna and Ferrara had meanwhile met and formed themselves into ‘The United Italian Provinces’. By the end of March, however, the last rebels had surrendered at Ancona. Their capitulation, though ratified by the Legate a latere, was then abrogated by Pope Gregory XVI on the grounds that pardon had been granted under duress.
The revolution of 1831 proved that the ‘legitimate’ governments lacked the firm loyalty of the people and continued only because of Austrian support. It also indicated the existence of some liberals with a rudimentary political programme, and threatened the prospect of epidemic disorder until they had been appeased. For the moment, however, the counter-revolution had won decisively; the concept of Italy as a nation receded once again; Menotti was executed by his former collaborator, Francis IV, and many future national leaders fled into exile from Modena and Piedmont.
For fifteen years or more the ancien regime was reprieved. Francis and Gregory both ruled until 1846, Marie Louise and Charles Ludovic of Lucca until 1847, Leopold II of Tuscany and Ferdinand II of Naples until 1859. The cruel administration of Canosa in Naples and Cardinal Bemetti in the Papal States was criticised even by Mettemich, who advocated moderation and legality so as to avoid further revolution. By comparison, the government of Austrian Lombardy and Venice was liberal. Tuscany, also, was ruled by a relatively enlightened despot: exiles from other Italian states could feel at home at Florence; progress was made there in popular education and land reclamation; and the legal system was in some respects more liberal than the code Napoleon itself. At Rome, on the other hand, if government was not consistently intolerant, it was always inefficient, corrupt, arbitrary and slow. There were no published accounts to serve as a check on the administration, and there was both an ecclesiastical and political censorship as well as the police and the Holy Office to curb dissentient opinions. In the Roman countryside a counter-revolutionary force of irregulars, the centurioni, violated the law with impunity. Only the presence of French troops in Ancona after 1832—to parry that of the Austrians in Bologna—recreated that equipoise whose absence had cramped the revolutions of the previous year; and on this slender thread of Franco-Austrian rivalry the future of Italy depended.
In Piedmont, Charles Albert as king had renounced his juvenile friendship for the liberals. He acted rather to impress the conservatives by an exaggerated legitimism, and at his accession refused to include in the usual amnesty his accomplices in the liberal movement of 1820-1.
Mazzini urged him in vain ‘to be the Napoleon of Italian liberty’. To Mazzini, prophet of the new age, the goal was national unity and independence, not the partial liberties demanded by the carbonari and federati. Mazzini had bitter words for the ineffectual Italian resistance against Austria in 1831, and concluded that discipline and a self-conscious nationalism were urgently required. In July 1831 he therefore gathered forty other exiles at Marseille and formed his new society of the Giovine Italia, intending it to be not just a regional body, but national, an integrating and initiating force (see also ch. IX, p. 224). Its first test came in the ‘sergeants’ conspiracy’ of 1833 in Piedmont, when a soldiers’ brawl accidentally betrayed his plans. Charles Albert reacted with excessive severity by comparison with the Austrians, who had spared General Zucchi. Twelve people were executed. Mazzini was condemned to death in absentia, so was Garibaldi in 1834 (he went to take service with the Bey of Tunis), and the Abbe Gioberti was among those exiled.
Some historians have argued that Charles Albert continued to be one of the chief obstacles to the risorgimento. His persecution of the radicals in 1833-4 certainly fits in with his Austrian alliance of 1831 and his attempt to drag an unwilling Metternich into war against Orleanist France. He still had territorial claims upon France, and actively supported the legitimist duchesse de Berry against Louis Philippe. He also backed with arms and money the legitimist claimants Don Carlos in Spain and Don Miguel in Portugal, thus gratuitously antagonising Britain as well. His wife was a Habsburg, and in 1842 he married his son Victor Emmanuel to another; and his Austrian sympathies were such that, on the occasion of this marriage, the Austrian General Radetzky referred to the Piedmontese army as the ‘advance guard of the Imperial forces’.
Eventually Charles Albert changed sides. He had failed to gain ground from France, and his hopes of annexing a canton of Switzerland were to collapse in 1847 with the defeat of the Sonderbund, Instead he turned his attention to the fertile plain of Lombardy, for a long time a distant object of dynastic ambition. Austrian intervention in central Italy was upsetting the balance of Italian power against him, and her separate railway system was diverting the trade of central Europe from Genoa to Trieste. By 1840 even his ultra-conservative Foreign Minister, Solaro della Margherita, was wondering whether revolutions in Hungary and Bohemia might not break up the Austrian empire and so give Piedmont a free hand in Lombardy. Only the king’s own character prevented him trying to hasten this consummation. As the French ambassador wrote in 1846, he ‘will listen with pleasure to dreams about the future of Italy which promise him a great role in history. But at the moment of action it will all fade away.’
In his internal policy, Charles Albert, although politically absolutist, repaired some of the deficiencies which made his kingdom one of the most backward states of Europe. Several different currencies still circulated in its component provinces, and internal customs stations curtailed the freedom of traffic. Duties had multiplied by four times between 1815 and 1830, with grave damage to revenue as well as trade. Accordingly, many restrictive tariffs were lifted after 1835. A start was made with constructing railways, irrigation canals, and new port installations at Genoa. There was a half-hearted attempt to break the shackles of feudalism in Sardinia. A reform of the legal codes in 1838-40 brought a partial return to the Napoleonic system which Charles Albert’s predecessors had inconsiderately abandoned after 1814. Then in the early 1840’s permission was given for an Agricultural Society, which came to have a deep liberalising influence through its two thousand members. Like other similar societies in Lombardy and Tuscany it helped to inaugurate an agricultural revolution, by experimenting with new breeds of farm animals, introducing machinery, attacking plant diseases, and trying to improve the quality and transportability of wine.
This reforming spirit was a sign of the times and not peculiar to Piedmont. It was in Naples that there appeared the first Italian steamboat, as well as the first iron bridge and the first railway; and as early as 1833 Ferdinand II had talked of making a league among the various Italian states. For the chief example of political tolerance one must probably look to Parma; for the most liberal tariffs and laws, to Tuscany; for efficient government, to Lombardy. Only in Florence could non-Catholics attend the university, and only in Parma could Jews hold jobs in the public administration (in Piedmont the Jews had to live in ghettoes and were not allowed to own land). Undoubtedly it was Austrian Lombardy which showed the greatest prosperity and the greatest advance in industrialisation. Lombardy boasted the finest system of communications in continental Europe, and it was not Austrian obscurantism so much as the municipal jealousies of Bergamo and Treviglio which held up the Milan-Venice railroad. The Austrian rulers were far ahead of other Italian sovereigns in educational development. Their taxes, though heavy, were less than those of their predecessors or successors. Their press laws allowed the existence of more than twice as many newspapers as in Piedmont or Tuscany. Cattaneo’s ‘Politecnico’ freely advocated revolutionary liberal reforms, and the ‘Annali di Statistica' possessed distinguished correspondents all over Italy who could not publish at home. Apparently the people of Lombardy remained content and loyal, at least until 1840. So far were they from feelings of Italian unity that the Milan Chamber of Commerce advocated joining the German Zollverein as a means to greater prosperity. In 1841 Mettemich was planning a close economic union of Austria with the states of Italy as an antidote to Italian nationalism. He might well have succeeded, for even among the radicals there were some, like Cattaneo, who thought there was more to be gained from Austria than from Piedmont. Where Mettemich failed was in preventing single campaigns against individual abuses from gradually developing into a larger scheme of renovation: and when the movement for reforms reached a certain point, it became political.
This imminent political revolution frightened Charles Albert quite as much as it frightened Mettemich, and with reason. Solaro was politically more reactionary than preceding ministers before 1835, and even persuaded Gregory XVI in 1841 to restore the ecclesiastical privileges which in Austria and Tuscany had been abolished for fifty years. His censorship allowed no talk of pope or king; the word ‘country’ had to be substituted for ‘nation’ or ‘Italy’, the words ‘liberal’ and ‘constitution’ were impermissible, and ‘revolution’ had to be replaced by ‘anarchy’ or ‘government by violence’. Cavour once described Turin as an intellectual hell, and D’Azeglio left for twelve years in 1831 to publish his novels in the freer atmosphere of Milan.
Charles Albert himself was by temperament insincere, given to concealing his opinions even from friends, and deliberately misleading them. His diary shows him distrusting everyone and habitually playing off one minister against another; and foreign ambassadors remarked on his love of mystification, his changefulness of view, and his thinly concealed ambition. Mettemich agreed that he was ‘ambitious as well as vacillating; he is a despot, and requires from the liberals only the incense which the litterati bum to him; he detests not only France, but also Austria which bars him from the throne of Italy’. For a long time Charles Albert misinterpreted ideas of national independence as being merely a disguise for hostility to throne and altar. His intimate correspondence with Francis IV then shows his views altering as he began to fear that other sovereigns might outdo him by posing as national leaders; and as he claimed that he himself and the pope were the sole legitimate rulers in Italy, he ultimately found conservative and Catholic reasons for himself exploiting nationalism in a dynastic war against Austria.
The necessary intellectual stimulus for this first war of liberation was provided by the neo-Guelph writers, who in the early 1840’s made political liberalism almost obligatory for men of culture, and helped to associate Catholicism with the national movement. Even though they disagreed on details and formed no organised party, they collectively provided a respectable if distorted version of Mazzini’s ideas, and then linked it up with previous traditions of thought. Manzoni, Rosmini and Tommaseo had begun to develop the idea of a liberal Catholicism. Others tried to involve the pope historically by showing how the medieval papacy had fought the Germans. Of these neo-Guelphs, Farini and Minghetti became ministers of Pius IX after 1847, Capponi was to be Prime Minister of Tuscany, and Balbo, Gioberti and D’Azeglio were each in time to become Prime Minister of Piedmont. But already, before 1847, even if their books had to be published abroad, they had acquired a profound influence throughout Italy.
Silvio Pellico’s Le mie prigioni had appeared as early as 1832, describing his ten years in Austrian prisons. Although written in a spirit of religious resignation, with little if any patriotic intent, its great success almost accidentally labelled Austria as the great oppressor of the peninsula. At Brussels in 1843 Gioberti produced his Delprimato morale e civile degli Italiani, dedicated to Pellico (see also ch. IX, p. 225). Here he argued that there existed an Italian race which was united in blood, religion and language, even if political unity was unattainable; and its natural leader was the pope. Although Gioberti had little faith in papal politics, he hid his deeper thoughts because he was aiming at an audience of priests, and he carefully excised from his manuscript all criticism of Austria and the Jesuits. He thus passed the censor with a scheme which reconciled religion and country: patriotism suddenly became orthodox and a matter for public discussion instead of for hole-and-corner conspiracy. Later on, Gioberti openly attacked the narrow Catholicism of the Curia; but it was his earlier appeal to papal leadership which was remembered, and his theme of Italian ‘primacy’ helped to give his countrymen the necessary self-confidence for political revolution.
Another influential work was Balbo’s Delle speranze d'Italia, dedicated to Gioberti and published in 1844. Balbo agreed that a federal state was the obvious goal, because the various peoples of Italy were so distinct that they needed different forms of government. Unlike Gioberti, however, he concentrated less on general principles than on practical points, and he developed the idea that sometime Austria would voluntarily expand eastwards into the Balkans and leave Italy more free. As a good Piedmontese, he envisaged Charles Albert, not the pope, as leader of the future Italian confederation. In 1846 Durando’s Della nazionalita Italiana actually proposed to take away most of the pope’s temporal possessions, and redivide Italy between three secular, federated kingdoms.
Meanwhile, almost every year, insurrections occurred somewhere. Their inspiration, though not always their direction, came from Mazzini, who wanted not a federation of monarchies but a single republic, not an imposition from above but an autonomous self-determination from below.
To Gioberti’s objections that local insurrections were wasteful and disheartening, Mazzini replied that only thus could you rouse the people, and without the people a revolution would be vitiated and would deserve to fail. Mazzini thus generated a very powerful force with which (and subsequently for which) the royalists were driven to compete. We see this in 1845, when Charles Albert told D’Azeglio to assure people that, if only they abandoned agitation, circumstances might one day permit his army to deliver them. A further stage was reached towards conflict with Austria when, in 1846, the repudiation of an agreement on the salt trade brought in retaliation a prohibitive duty on Piedmontese wines entering Lombardy. Although the Austrophile Solaro continued in office until 1847, the hypothesis of an eventual war was several times mentioned, without any material preparations being made. The Piedmontese had long been convinced that they would sometime supplant Austria in Milan, and now that both neo-Guelphs and Mazzinians were making public confession of national sentiment, popular excitement was shortly to make this conviction one of the many explosive forces in Italy.
Just when the patriots were uncertain what their next move should be, a reputedly liberal pope was elected in June 1846. Pius IX was not in fact a liberal, but he was sincerely anxious to relax the tension which had grown up under Gregory between the papal government and its subjects. His amnesty of some thousand prisoners and exiles, although only a customary act of clemency and fully approved in advance by Metternich, was at once read as adhesion to the neo-Guelph programme of liberty and independence. Wild scenes of enthusiasm greeted the act, and Pius, who was no politician but was most susceptible to popularity and applause, was led on to make other concessions. The myth of a liberal and patriotic pope was only the fantasy of an excited populace. Pius’s statement of November in favour of railways and his decree announcing a consulta di stato in April 1847 can both be connected with popular demonstrations in Rome, but were taken to signify his conversion to Gioberti’s ideas. Concessions were made to local self-government, and a proposal was advanced for a customs union with other Italian states. The Jews were also allowed outside the Ghetto, and no longer received in carnival with the formal kick which had symbolised their servile status. Metternich began to take alarm, as he saw Pius unwittingly raise up a monster which might prove uncontrollable; the revolutionaries could now march under the slogan of ‘viva Pio nono’; the Guelph party was growing up again, but this time with no Ghibellines to contain it.
The year 1847 saw the sovereigns of Italy in retreat, especially as the bad harvest of 1846 brought food riots and forced them to concede liberal economic reforms. The people were feeling their power, and the revolution had effectively begun. Charles Albert tried to hold out against the current, supported by the evident lack of enthusiasm for political reform among both peasants and nobility in Savoy-Piedmont—it was forbidden at Turin to read the newly emancipated newspapers of Tuscany and Rome, or to celebrate the pope’s anniversary. But a new situation emerged when Austrian troops entered Modena on the death of Francis, and when in July 1847 Mettemich unwisely defied papal protests and occupied Ferrara. As well as further upsetting the balance of power against Piedmont, this lost Austria her position as the guardian of legitimacy; it also impelled the pope still more towards the liberals, and gave Charles Albert the excuse for a war which could be justified as defensive and in aid of the Holy See. The king let fall covert hints of his desire for national independence. In October, after a warning from Balbo that Leopold and Pius were outbidding him for the moral leadership of Italy, he suddenly dismissed Solaro and introduced liberal provisions for local government and a looser censorship. This, he hoped, would be enough, and he reiterated his solemn promise to concede no more. But it was the thin end of a wedge. Balbo and Cavour brought out a new journal, significantly entitled Il Risorgimento, to advocate further political changes, arguing that even the best laws would not work under an absolute government. When demonstrations took place at Genoa in December, the king first thought they were an attempt to restore Genoese independence with English help, and ordered the troops to suppress them. None the less, they frightened him with visions of republicanism, especially when his soldiers fraternised with the demonstrators and the city administration of Turin joined in the request for a constitution.
In southern Italy, if people were less patriotic than in the north, they were more revolutionary because they were far poorer and had less to lose. Ferdinand realised the necessity for cheaper com and salt, but bureaucratic inefficiency always held up action. His weakest point was Sicily, where even the upper classes of society were incensed against his recent fusion of the Sicilian and Neapolitan administrations. Although the more moderate Sicilians followed D’Azeglio’s advice in renouncing the weapon of insurrection, the radicals had no such scruples; hence Mazzini’s ideas again won precedence over those of the neo-Guelphs. A rumour spread in Palermo that on 12 January 1848 they would challenge the authorities with a demonstration: somewhat hesitantly, a few bold men set the example; by degrees the demonstration became an insurrection; finally, when after two days it had established itself, the well-to-do took over and made it a movement for restoring the aristocratic constitution of 1812. The price of success in Palermo was a hundred dead. Unrest then spread to Naples, and Ferdinand was forced in February to grant a constitution as a ‘spontaneous’ and ‘irrevocable’ proof of his good intentions. This abject surrender forced the hand of Leopold of Tuscany, Charles Albert and even Pius IX, all of whom had to follow suit in March by conceding more or less liberal constitutions.
Until the last minute Charles Albert had maintained that such an act was irreconcilable with his conscience; but finally his ministers persuaded him to receive episcopal absolution from his oath, and a statuto was published which was to remain the fundamental law, first of Piedmont then of Italy (cf. ch. VIII, pp. 200-1). Only he carefully kept it a conservative document, reserving to himself foreign policy and the conduct of war, as well as all executive power and nomination to the upper house. Since ministers remained answerable to him and not to parliament he neither intended nor foresaw that parliamentary government would develop under his successors.
Another significant advance was the pope’s proposal to form a customs league. Remarkably enough, Piedmont had not yet anticipated such a compact as a way to exclude Austria and win leadership in Italy. In August 1847 Tuscany and the Papal States had arranged to form an economic league together, but Charles Albert proved reluctant to lower his tariffs to the Tuscan level, and only agreed in principle several months later. Early in 1848 Piedmont again held up formation of a defensive alliance among Italian states. Charles Albert rather followed Balbo in wanting to defeat Austria first, so as then to be able to dominate a subsequent federation. Hence the widespread distrust of his ambition. According to Farini, other Italian states were sometimes more afraid of him than of Austria. Only when the Piedmontese realised that they could not win without help did they later become more interested in an alliance.
Some liberals like Petitti and Cattaneo now began to think a war of independence unnecessary and even undesirable, since war might halt the great advances already being made towards liberty and prosperity. But the forces of change were too strong and multifarious for a peaceful outcome: Sicily had not yet won formal independence; Mazzini was quite unsatisfied by moderate reforms; the Austrians were in Ferrara, and the Austrian embargo on Piedmontese wine was a crying grievance; food production had not been sufficiently increased by partial abandonment of protection; and there was still no constitution in Venice and Lombardy. Existing railway schemes did not link up across state boundaries, but were intended less for trade than for royal pleasure. The Annali di Statistica complained that, although man could travel 25 miles an hour, it took eight weeks for goods to traverse the 200 kilometres from Florence to Milan. The same paper had hoped that ‘the steamship lines between Bombay and Suez, Alexandria and Marseille have reversed the terms of the problem which was solved by Vasco da Gama when he passed the Cape of Good Hope’: but so far there were no material results to show. Such grievances were magnified by the intellectual revolution which, particularly in Lombardy, had organised a new public opinion against the ancien regime. All-Italian scientific congresses had met at Pisa in 1839, Turin in 1840, and subsequently at Florence, Padua, Milan, Naples and Genoa, all stressing the unity of Italy in culture and geography, and showing how its several states were interdependent.
In March 1848 a long-suppressed rebellion broke out in Milan and finally precipitated war. For some months there had been clashes with the police. The Milanese had learnt from the Boston tea-party to abstain from smoking, and tension had mounted with the spread of such passive resistance and boycott. When petitions were submitted for reforms and autonomy, more repressive measures were the only response, because for Austria to yield in Italy would have detonated all the other oppressed peoples of her ramshackle empire. Finally the Paris revolution of 25 February precipitated revolt in Vienna itself on 13 March (see ch. XV, pp. 395-6). This news reached Milan and Venice when both were surging with insubordination. Casati, the mayor of Milan, tried to restrain people, but over a thousand barricades were soon blocking the streets, and he had to head a provisional government in order to contain the revolt within limits and give it some direction. During the heroic ‘five days’ at Milan the insurgents lost 300 men, almost all of them lower-class town artisans; but Radetzky was compelled to evacuate the city. Milan, like Sicily, had justified Mazzini’s obstinate faith in popular initiative.
Subsequent legend made out that Charles Albert had only been waiting for this revolt before himself attacking Austria. In fact it caught him quite unawares, having made no preparations for an offensive war; and he had just given assurances to Austria of his pacific intentions. The ‘five days’ found his troops on the distant French frontier, ready only to fight against the revolution. Though he had lately sent arms to the reactionaries in Switzerland, he could send none to Milan. He even halted the volunteers who tried to cross the frontier into Lombardy. He was waiting to see, first if a popular rising could really defeat the Austrians, and secondly whether his own intervention would serve the Piedmontese monarchy or just help to establish a Milanese republic. This delay deprived him of the gratitude due to a saviour, and invited the charge of playing at politics. Cavour had to warn him that, if he did not intervene now the Austrians were being defeated, both the dynasty might fall and Lombardy be lost for ever to Piedmont—already he had been anticipated by Leopold of Tuscany. Accordingly, after many hesitations, he accepted the tricolour flag and crossed the Ticino, to aid the revolt but also to forestall republicanism. His ambassador at Vienna was ordered to explain this step as designed to prevent the further spread of revolution. His generals were instructed to advance circumspectly, and Radetzky was thus left unhampered in his hasty retreat through hostile country.
Obviously, without the Piedmontese army the Austrians could hardly be defeated before they could regroup in their quadrilateral of fortresses beyond Lake Garda. Hence even Mazzini now gave grudging allegiance to the king. But Charles Albert was as frightened of the radicals as of Austria. He refused Garibaldi’s offer of collaboration. He was horrified that Venice should think to revive its republic and appeal for French intervention. Other political disagreements arose with the Tuscans, who were uneasy about Piedmontese intentions and were themselves bent on annexing Massa and Carrara; also with the Papacy, which was expected to incorporate Modena and Parma. Still more serious, many of the Lombards were lukewarm, whether suspicious of Piedmont or afraid of social convulsion, and preferred rather to confide in Austria for the maintenance of order and enlightened government. Cattaneo heatedly denounced Charles Albert as ‘the man who betrayed the patriots of 1821 and shot those of 1833’; and he added, ‘I should prefer the Austrians to recapture Milan than see a traitor in command of Lombardy’. When, instead of postponing political questions until after the war, the king requested a vote for immediate union of Lombardy with Piedmont, some of the Lombards objected that this would divide people at a critical moment and make other Italian sovereigns frightened of Piedmontese aggrandisement. Plebiscites were taken notwithstanding, but they included a proviso for the union of northern Italy to be followed by an assembly to choose a new constitution. This in its turn infuriated the loyal monarchists of Turin as being rank ingratitude by the Lombards to their deliverer. But, for about ten days, Piedmont, Lombardy and Venice became a single state.
Meantime, as Cattaneo said, ‘while Charles Albert was collecting votes, Radetzky was collecting men’. Bonaparte, with no larger army than that of Piedmont, had cut through northern Italy like a knife and organised Lombard forces from nothing. Charles Albert, however, was unwilling to build up a potentially dangerous Lombard army. A later commission of inquiry established that, for all his vaunted hostility to Austria, even his commanding officers had no maps of Lombardy, no study had been made of Austrian fortifications, and the railway had not yet been built from Turin to Alessandria; food, tents and medical supplies were deficient; lack of horses immobilised the artillery; troops had not been instructed in the new percussion musket; while the officers, having mostly been appointed by family connection, did not know the basic words of command. Charles Albert valorously insisted on directing operations at the front; but his chronic indecision and pre-Napoleonic ideas of generalship invited personal responsibility for what followed.
The initial slowness of advance, and the failure to watch the Alpine passes whence Radetzky obtained supplies, gave the Austrians two months for consolidation and for a relief column to reach Verona. In May the Tuscans were checked at Curtatone and the Romans at Vicenza; in July the Piedmontese were defeated at Custoza. Radetzky then offered a compromise which would have confirmed the independence of Milan; but Charles Albert, while ready to renounce Venice, relied on English mediation to give him all Lombardy, and feared that anything less would provoke a republican rising. Instead of accepting a truce, he retreated, although no defences had been built on either the Oglio or the Adda; and, against his generals’ advice, he divided his forces and fell back on Milan instead of Piacenza. He there promised the Milanese to make a desperate stand, but in fact abandoned the city at once, and in a way which suggested that his primary interest had been to prevent Milan saving herself again and calling in the French. The national war was becoming a dynastic war. Despite the counsel of his warlike Casati-Gioberti ministry to invoke French help, he believed the French to be more dangerous than the Austrians, and so General Salasco signed an armistice on 9 August. Instead of being a deliverer, the king withdrew from Lombardy under accusation of treachery.
The first eighteen months of constitutional government at Turin saw eight successive premiers. No minister was very keen to implement the ‘unconstitutional’ Salasco armistice. It was not only the radical majority after the elections of January 1849 which wanted to resume hostilities, but moderate conservatives like Cavour regarded war as ‘the only means of re-establishing order in the interior’. England and France would surely guarantee that, even if defeated, Piedmont could only lose the price of an indemnity. When war reopened in March, the army was as unprepared as ever: the king and his generals had been so discredited that a Polish commander-in-chief was employed, but he knew nothing of the terrain. Senior officers even confessed to the Austrians that they fought indifferently because opposed to the war—and so confirmed that the Piedmontese were not yet educated to lead a national movement. Strategical errors brought complete defeat at Novara after only a three days’ campaign. One general was subsequently shot for disobedience. Meanwhile the Lombards remained passive.
By this time the revolution had collapsed in southern Italy. Separation from Naples was the chief aim of Sicilians; and when they refused the reconciliation offered by the new constitutional government at Naples, even the Neapolitan liberals rallied to preserve the Bourbon dominion. A parliament met at Palermo, but the deputies had other interests than those which had first moved the common people to man the barricades. Likewise in Naples a jacquerie split the unsatisfied peasants from the liberal intellectuals, whose object was jobs and influence. In May 1848, after bombarding the city, Ferdinand altered the spirit of his ‘irrevocable’ constitution: its evident unworkability had been a reflection on the political immaturity of the liberals as well as on the king’s bad faith. A papal allocution of 29 April had also disowned the Austrian war, so proving that constitutional government was impracticable where the sovereign was sole interpreter of a higher law. Later in the year the pope fled to Gaeta, leaving Mazzini to become virtual dictator of a Roman republic for three months in 1849. Mazzini made some attempt to free trade, abolish serfdom and break up the large estates; but at Rome, too, there developed a stultifying cleavage between moderates and radicals. Pius henceforth abjured all compromise with the liberals who had abused his good nature and credulity. The Catholic powers were summoned to restore his temporal dominion, and four armies bore down on Garibaldi and Mazzini. Against the liberal Catholicism of Rosmini and Gioberti, the Jesuits triumphantly asserted that liberalism derived from the Protestants and was incompatible with true religion. Henceforward the risorgimento was left to the anticlericals, with corresponding disadvantages for both church and state. The Roman republic fell to the French in July 1849, and thereafter maintenance of the temporal power required despotic government and a foreign garrison. Sicily had been overrun by King ‘Bomba’s’ Swiss mercenaries in May; and when Manin’s Venetian republic collapsed in August, the Italian revolution was over. The peninsula became occupied territory even more than before, Austrian forces holding Tuscany and Modena, and the French remaining in Rome.
Evidently the moderates and neo-Guelphs had been more interested in their own individual liberties than in national independence. The Neapolitan liberals had turned against Sicily, the Messinese against the rival city of Palermo, and even some of the Palermitan liberals had changed sides when the revolution touched their personal property. With certain notable exceptions there had been insufficient readiness to make sacrifices. When starving Venice appealed for aid, she received from the rest of Italy (said Tommaseo) but one day’s supply. Far from the revolution cementing italianith, internal animosities had been sharpened, and D’Azeglio’s unworthy jeers at the defenders of Rome were heartily reciprocated. Charles Albert’s policy of Italia fara da se had been revealed as absurd, and disillusioned politicians had to admit that the making of Italy demanded the active interest of some other European state. D’Azeglio concluded that centuries must elapse before Italy learnt constitutional practice and became a great power. Gioberti gave up his myth of Italian ‘primacy’, and put his faith rather in republican France: the only hope, he thought, was for Piedmont to overcome its provincialism and make terms with democracy; and the pope would have to forfeit his temporal authority.
Immediately after Novara, Charles Albert abdicated, and shortly died at Oporto. After seventeen years combating liberalism and nationality, he had not been able in a moment to set aside his past. Posthumous legends notwithstanding, he was a weak character with a weak intellect, and his more amiable qualities could not obliterate the double-dealing which both friend and foe describe. The flattering tales of an ‘Italian Hamlet’ and the ‘martyr of Oporto’ came later, manufactured by the very people who had helped bring Piedmont to disaster.
Another political myth described how Victor Emmanuel II, after succeeding his father, compelled Radetzky to moderate the Vignale armistice and stoutly resisted Austrian attacks on the statuto. Radetzky was not in fact out to humiliate Piedmont, but prudently offered favourable terms to avoid French intervention and to bolster up royalty against Piedmontese radicalism. In return, Victor Emmanuel promised he would override the radical majority in parliament. He ignored that majority in appointing a conservative general as premier, while another general bombarded radical Genoa into submission. He also ratified the treaty with Austria, despite the fact that elections in July 1849 confirmed the parliamentary opposition against it. By the notorious ‘proclamation of Moncalieri’ in November he personally warned the electorate to endorse this action, explaining his determination ‘to save the nation from the tyranny of parties’: the implication was that, if parliament did not confirm his treaty, he would revoke the constitution.
Victor Emmanuel thus succeeded in partially re-establishing royal authority. If his remained a more limited monarchy than that of Naples or Prussia, this was because Custoza and Novara had seriously damaged the prestige of royalty in both Piedmont and Italy. He sometimes ruled arbitrarily and raised taxes by royal decree, but other Italian rulers behaved far worse, and it should be remembered that probably Piedmont was more or less indifferent to its form of government provided that it was in fact governed. The statuto and the tricolour flag at least were still in being, and henceforward the risorgimento was represented by a regular government instead of merely by prophets and conspirators.
With wise moderation, the king chose D’Azeglio of the right centre as premier. D’Azeglio, in his ministry of 1849-52, did as much as honesty and cautious good sense could do to restore confidence in the monarchy and recommence a policy of reforms. One of his principal measures concerned the Piedmontese church, which after 1814 had been reimbursed thoroughly for confiscations under the revolution, and whose separate courts and rights of sanctuary were incompatible with that equality before the law decreed in the statuto. In 1850, therefore, the Siccardi laws abolished ecclesiastical jurisdiction, limited the number of recognised holy days, and prohibited ecclesiastical corporations from acquiring land in mortmain without permission. Archbishop Franzoni forbad his clergy to comply with these laws, and tried to coerce the cabinet by withholding absolution and religious burial from those responsible. But since the church was now in full opposition to the liberal movement, this was a test of strength, and it was not worth while for the laity to offer a compromise.
D’Azeglio was supported in this policy by Count Cavour, who, after being defeated in his first election, joined the ministry in 1850. At various times in the next eighteen months Cavour held the departments of finance, naval affairs, agriculture and industry. He was a rationalist in religion, a radical-conservative in politics; he had been a soldier and journalist by profession, and was now a highly successful agriculturist as well as a director of the Bank of Turin and the Turin-Genoa railway. A most able and ambitious man, he had already considered whether to join the opposition and overthrow the D’Azeglio cabinet, and he continued in relations with both Balbo on the right and Rattazzi on the left until he could contrive a new parliamentary majority of his own. As he was primarily a financier, Cavour had to find the money for the 1848-9 campaigns and the Austrian indemnity; he had to pay for railways, for very necessary army reforms, and for reviving the scheme to build a naval base at Spezia so that Piedmont ‘should not be inferior to any other Italian power’. Heavy increases in taxation over ten years eventually raised the annual revenue from 80 to 146 million lire, but the public debt grew sixfold in the same period. Cavour could never balance the budget, but he did succeed in increasing the country’s productive capacity. He had the loyal support of a growing middle class educated in the principles of classical economy, who disliked existing economic restrictions the more as they grew in wealth. Commercial treaties were therefore negotiated in 1850-1 with France, England and Austria, and a policy of freeing trade enriched the nation and won the grateful friendship of England.
Owing to D’Azeglio’s war-wound, Cavour soon became leader of the house, and set about using his position to supplant his chief. D’Azeglio was not a tactician or a debater. He was an amateur in politics, an artist by profession, an aristocrat by upbringing, and a politician only by accident. If he was the finer character, Cavour was easily the finer politician, and the times needed a man who could appreciate that honesty was not always the best policy. Cavour first required a personal clientele in parliament; and as his preference for the conservatives was hampered by religious scruples and by their loyalty to the existing premier, he secretly made an alliance or connubio with Rattazzi and the left centre (February 1852). Only one other minister was with him in this, and yet, without warning, he suddenly committed the government in public to a breach with its conservative wing, thus leaving D’Azeglio more isolated. He did not even offer his resignation after this until forced by the king, and until he adjudged that it was bound to bring down the rest of the cabinet sooner or later. The connubio set a durable tradition for Italian politics, which henceforth tended to revolve round a loose centre coalition as later in France, instead of round two more or less sharply opposing parties as in England; and Italian historians have tried to justify it accordingly. Here as elsewhere, Cavour was in fact trying to model himself on English practice, for he thought that a similar alliance of Disraeli and Palmerston was in course of formation. Of all his political actions, he was most proud of this one, and it did not fail to carry him eventually into power.
D’Azeglio finally resigned in November 1852, when the king declined to approve his bill for introducing civil marriage. Victor Emmanuel had first intrigued with ‘the king’s friends’ in the senate to quash the bill, but then found that Cavour, hoping to obtain office, would not support D’Azeglio in resisting this arbitrary act of prerogative. Only when Cavour was more securely entrenched in power did he essay further anticlerical legislation and persuade the king to dissolve the monasteries.
As Cavour admitted publicly, Piedmontese laws still lagged behind those of the other Italian states, and it was therefore the more remarkable a task of reform which he accomplished in his eight years as Prime Minister. He had often to withstand personal as well as political opposition from the king. He had to overcome considerable unpopularity among the common people for his conservative past and his swingeing taxes. He had to fight aristocratic opposition in the senate, as well as a bench of bishops which contained some of the wealthiest prelates in Europe. The methods he used in this struggle were novel and rigorous: often he overrode his cabinet; he applied the secret funds to bribe the press at home and abroad, and once to employ a lady of birth in seducing the emperor of the French; over controversial measures he set the tradition of taking action first and then asking parliament for retrospective consent; unlike D’Azeglio, he freely employed the civil service to secure election of government candidates to parliament,1 and used measures he knew to be illegal for suppressing opposition newspapers. He could always claim that a liberal end justified illiberal means. And yet he was never tempted to abolish parliament, because he realised how strong it made him if correctly manipulated. He always preferred to disarm opposition peaceably wherever possible, presenting an issue frankly and accepting suggestions and amendments.
In foreign politics, while Mazzini kept Italian discontent alive before European opinion, Cavour even forewarned Austria in 1853 against the Mazzinian insurrection at Milan. Although in consequence the radicals accused Cavour of being piemontesissimo—putting Turin before the rest of Italy—he was but biding his time. The only real advances, he used to say, were those which were slow and wisely ordered. He was determined to isolate the Italian question from any chance association with democracy and social revolution, for only thus could he attract the one class which could solve it successfully. This did not prevent him making a dignified protest when, in 1853, Austria sequestrated the possessions of Lombards living in Piedmont. On the other hand, his intervention in the Crimean War in 1855 was not the brilliant coup once thought, but rather the indirect result of a royal conspiracy with the French ambassador to supplant him by the conservatives. Victor Emmanuel liked battles just as he liked a hunting party, and because in war he could cast off constitutional trammels. He also wanted to distract the patriots and radical italianissimi from the danger zone of Lombardy. Far from Cavour making a courageous and far-sighted decision, he was reluctantly indulging a royal whim to avoid being dismissed. Only one minister wanted to join in the war, for it meant alignment with the national enemy Austria and the expenditure of frail resources on a distant battlefield where no national interests were at stake. It was not an example of Piedmont’s initiative at long last, but rather another instance of the instability of her constitution. It merely showed how clever Cavour was at making the best of a very bad job.
The Crimean War ended before the small expeditionary force of 15,000 men had been able to exert itself beyond a minor engagement. Unwillingly Cavour went in 1856 to the peace conference, still expecting to be the scapegoat for a useless war, but half hoping that he might win one of the duchies for his pains. The only positive achievement at Paris was a short statement by Lord Clarendon that the present state of Italy was unsatisfactory (cf. ch. XVIII, p. 490). Cavour was disappointed with this.
But Manin and other republican exiles in Paris took note that he could speak as an Italian and might possibly be induced to advance from the aggrandisement of Piedmont to the making of Italy. Cavour said privately that their talk of Italian unity was ‘a lot of nonsense’; but later in 1856 he secretly offered encouragement to Manin’s National Society on two conditions: that they abandoned republicanism and he could disown them if necessary. Thus, once again, he skilfully divided his opponents and won a valuable new source of strength, still without committing himself beyond recall. He was quite ready to champion the idea of unity, but only when public opinion was ready for it, and only if it did not compromise the monarchy or the interests of Piedmont. He also explained that, as he could never flout the wishes of Napoleon III, Naples might have to become an appanage of Lucien Murat, the son of its former king, Joachim. Fortunately, Murat was not brave enough to press his claims. Fortunately, too, public opinion in Piedmont was meanwhile being educated in italianita, as numerous Italian immigrants rose to important positions in the Turin press and university.
It was a severe reverse when the 1857 elections doubled the clerical opposition. In ‘normal times’, Cavour admitted, this would have forced a ministerial crisis. But by now he had made himself indispensable, and was able to find a pretext for annulling some of the opposition elections. He also forced the resignation of the anticlerical Rattazzi whose friendship had become a liability. Rattazzi, as Minister of the Interior, had been implicated with Mazzini in 1856 over a rising in Lunigiana, and had also failed to prevent a republican outbreak at Genoa in June 1857. The connubio thus ended in divorce, and Cavour decided to move towards the right as evidence to convince Louis Napoleon that Piedmont was a safe bulwark against revolution. Mazzini, therefore, was again condemned to death. The opposition to what he called Cavour’s ‘Prussian policy’ was failing, as repeated insurrections foundered on popular apathy. Mazzini offered to collaborate, but Cavour needed him in opposition so as to frighten the conservatives at home and abroad into aiding his own more orthodox brand of revolution. In any case, for Cavour, Mazzini was more an enemy than Francis Joseph himself. There was a deep incompatibility between the democrat and the liberal conservative, the mystic and the rationalist, the prophet and the sceptical politician. While both were necessary for the making of Italy, it was Cavour who now called the tune.
In January 1858 an attempt on Napoleon’s life was made by an Italian, Orsini. As French support was essential, Cavour urgently prosecuted the revolutionary party, and when juries proved recalcitrant, passed a bill to amend legal procedure. More than a hundred suspected agitators were expelled, and Mazzini’s paper, Italia del Popolo, which had already had at least 150 issues confiscated, was altogether and tyrannically suppressed. Fortunately Napoleon wanted Piedmont as an ally against Austria: he needed to stop Austrian influence spreading in Italy, as well as to acquire renown and break up the humiliating settlement of 1815, and to obtain as the price of his help certain frontier rectifications and a marriage into the oldest dynasty of Europe (cf. ch. XVII, pp. 462-3). Cavour therefore embarked confidently on a diplomatic duel with Count Buol. In 1856-7 the Austrians had tried to woo the Lombards with the promise of partial autonomy under the Archduke Maximilian: a number of exiles, despairing of any other solution, even began to return to Milan. Cavour countered this with French support, picking a quarrel and inducing Buol to try and restore Austrian prestige by breaking off diplomatic relations. Then he set about widening the breach and hurrying Napoleon into war against Austria for Italy’s benefit.
Cavour’s journey to arrange matters with Napoleon was taken without the approval or even the knowledge of his cabinet. At Plombieres in July 1858 it was loosely arranged that Cavour should provoke war in the following spring, when the ‘people’ of Massa-Carrara would appeal for annexation. Victor Emmanuel should then revive the old Napoleonic kingdom of northern Italy down as far as Bologna, while there was to be a separate kingdom of central Italy, perhaps under Napoleon’s cousin. In January 1859 a formal treaty confirmed that France should take Nice and Savoy in compensation. Cavour meanwhile applied himself to make Austria declare war and give his ally an excuse to intervene as a defender of the oppressed. Lombards were ostentatiously enlisted in his army so that Austria would pose as a bully and demand their extradition; and the king, on Napoleon’s suggestion, spoke provocatively to parliament of the ‘cries of grief’ from the downtrodden subjects of other Italian states. England was horrified that Cavour, ‘unassailed by any foreign power, and with no point of honour at stake’, should thus deliberately seek war, and Malmesbury frightened Napoleon into backing down and demanding Piedmontese disarmament. Cavour, prostrate with grief, had to submit. But Austria, although financially and militarily unprepared, again made Lombardy a test for the viability of her multi-national empire; and Buol foolishly seized on Napoleon’s withdrawal as the opportunity to crush an isolated Piedmont (cf. ch. xx, p. 539). Too late did his military advisers grasp what he was doing. In April, Cavour was saved by the Austrian idea of a preventive war.
By another stroke of fortune, the Austrian forces delayed several weeks a few hours’ march from Turin, so giving Napoleon time to intervene. (For some account of the campaign see ch. XII, pp. 323-4.) Early in June the French defeated the Austrians at Magenta and forced them out of Lombardy. Another victory followed at Solferino. Then in July, as Mazzini had accurately foretold, Napoleon suddenly stopped short, and concluded an armistice at Villafranca which left Venetia and even the quadrilateral of Lombard fortress towns in Austrian possession. Cavour was thunderstruck, and desperately advised Victor Emmanuel to continue fighting alone. But the king had taken the occasion of war to gather the conduct of policy into his own hands, and was realistic enough to reject this advice. France had won her prestige victory, and feared that northern Germany might rally to Austrian aid on the Rhine; nor did Napoleon want Piedmont too strong in the Italian federation he aimed to create. He had discovered that Cavour, instead of working for a separate kingdom of central Italy as agreed at Plombieres, had surreptitiously sent agents to prepare annexation of the duchies to Piedmont. Napoleon therefore felt justified in deserting his ally, provided that he dropped the French claim to Savoy and Nice. Cavour resigned. He had already provoked one angry scene lately with Victor Emmanuel when he had accused the king’s mistress of infidelity. In July there was another scene over Villafranca. Being neither a soldier nor a sporting man, nor a courtier, Cavour had never been one of the king’s favourites; and so the more courteous and courtly Rattazzi took office with an interim ministry. In November the peace of Zurich confirmed that Tuscany and Modena as well as Venice should return to their old rulers.
French intervention had at least won most of Lombardy for Piedmont; and before long the settlement was to be further modified in her favour. In January 1860 Lord John Russell persuaded the French to concede the principle of non-intervention in central Italy, so that the duchies and the Romagna could choose their own future. Baron Ricasoli in Florence, and Farini in Modena, Parma and Bologna, had both formed provisional governments and asked for annexation. Protestant Britain was not averse to a diminution in papal territory; nor was Napoleon, judging from the officially authorised pamphlet Le Pape et le Congres. Cavour returned to power in January with a plan to offer Savoy and Nice again to Napoleon if he would allow the annexation of central Italy. A bargain was concluded in March. Before parliament had been informed what was happening, French troops marched in to ‘arrange’ plebiscites in ratification of the accomplished fact, and by a remarkable tour de force Cavour then convinced the deputies that Nice was really more French than Italian. In the same month the union of Tuscany and Emilia with Piedmont was peacefully effected: out of 427,512 votes registered in Emilia, 426,006 were for annexation, and the remainder were declared null and void. The kingdom of Sardinia had thus more than doubled its size in one year, and now included almost half the population of Italy.
Cavour continued to try to win Bourbon Naples as an ally and equal partner in this settlement. He had no plans for unifying Italy, but hoped to consolidate his position in the north, and then in a few years’ time assist in another European war which his northern kingdom could use for the acquisition of Venice. He thought it undesirable that another insurrection should break out in the south, for only if he remained strictly moderate and conservative would France either help win Venice or withdraw her garrison from Rome.
Mazzini, on the contrary, believed with religious earnestness that Italy must be unified, and by her own exertions, not by the condescension of interested foreigners, or else some deep moral corruption would curse her beyond hope of redemption. He had long considered that a revolutionary situation existed in the south, which he could use to regain the initiative. Once again, Sicily proved the ignition point. Enmity against Naples and peasant vendettas were two highly tensed forces in Sicily, and Mazzini’s agents touched off both of them in April 1860. Garibaldi, moreover, though he had had his own disagreements with Mazzini, was so incensed by Cavour bartering away his home town of Nice that he, too, was in rebellious mood. After being twice expelled from Piedmont, Garibaldi had become a brilliant guerrilla leader in his South American exile. He had returned in the hour of national emergency, but in 1848 and 1859 had been given a poor share in the Lombard wars, for the regular officers despised and feared his volunteers. In May 1860 he took the bit between his teeth and led his famous thousand filibusters to Sicily. Cavour did all he dared to stop him, but then had to fall back on a policy of wait-and-see: ‘if the insurrection is put down’, Cavour explained to the French ambassador, ‘we shall say nothing; if it is victorious, we shall intervene in the name of order and authority’. The cabinet even seems to have decided on Garibaldi’s arrest; but Cavour personally was in two minds, because elections were being held, the cession of Nice was causing a serious ministerial crisis, and he feared that the king was sympathetic to Garibaldi and wanted the excuse to appoint a new premier.
Before Cavour could decide, Garibaldi had astonished everyone by capturing Palermo. A widespread peasants’ revolt was disrupting the Bourbon administration and had helped to terrify a large army into submission. Cavour seized his chance and sent commissioners to annex Sicily. But Garibaldi believed, no doubt rightly, that Cavour wished to stop him short of Naples, and so refused to surrender the base which he needed for further operations on the mainland. This worried Cavour, for ‘the king could not accept the crown of Italy at the hands of Garibaldi’, and if the rebels continued to advance they might clash with the French at Rome. So he now stopped supplies going to help the revolution. While pretending to negotiate an alliance with Francis of Bourbon, his Neapolitan legation instigated a rival conspiracy to forestall Garibaldi, and succeeded in bribing the more important generals and ministers. But his agents had completely misinformed him about public opinion at Naples, and when the city fell to Garibaldi in September, he had to adopt a yet bolder project. Garibaldi’s extraordinary success had so quickened enthusiasm for immediate unification, that Cavour at last announced his conversion to this Mazzinian heresy: ‘incidents’ were manufactured on the papal frontier, Umbria and the Marches conquered from the pope to ‘save them from the revolution’, and thence Naples invaded. Garibaldi had to yield; and the Piedmontese victory over the papal mercenaries at Castelfidardo was magnified by official apologists in order to try and reduce the glamour of his own previous victories. The usual plebiscites were supervised by the occupying forces, and the inevitable huge majorities declared their unconditional wish for annexation.
The word ‘annexation’ was used deliberately, for although a Kingdom of Italy was now proclaimed, it was to be essentially a graft upon the former Kingdom of Sardinia, and theking’stitleremained Victor Emmanuel the Second. This gesture to themselves by the Piedmontese helped to sweeten for them the task of organising—and, at first, governing—the rest of Italy. But the necessary process of ‘Piedmontisation’ was naturally irksome to the other conquered and annexed states. Many Sicilians had been fighting for independence of Naples, and had only sought a Piedmontese alliance as a means to self-government. Many Neapolitans had wrongly understood that annexation would be combined with local autonomy, and now had to watch the loss of business, administrative jobs and prestige to the smaller and less ‘Italian’ city of Turin. Some of the radicals had been fighting for a republic. Garibaldi himself was disgusted at the meanness shown to his volunteers and at having to stop them short of Rome. Tommaseo and Cattaneo represented a group of die-hards who had wanted an Italian federation, not a centralised government under which such a discrete body of peoples would be ruled in uniformity by unsympathetic bureaucrats in distant Turin. As for the peasants who formed 90 per cent of the population, few of them knew what the word ‘Italy’ meant; they had lent their powerful aid to the rebellion in the blind hope of obtaining land and economic security, but now discovered that the ancien regime had been their friend against the rapacious middle classes and landlords whom they had unwittingly and unwillingly helped into power. The more sincere Catholics were appalled that Cavour should have defied excommunication by making war on the Holy See, taking most of its territory and extending there the anticlerical legislation current in the north. Furthermore, the sudden and unconsidered extension of free trade from Piedmont to backward provinces extinguished or depressed local industries, and converted large areas from relatively prosperous cattle-breeding to uneconomic cereal production—since geographic situation and poor communications put the south at an immediate disadvantage when protection was discarded. Even at Turin the court aristocracy strongly resented the process of dilution by un-pedigreed southerners. D’Azeglio recommended that Naples should at once be separated off again, because evidently the plebiscites had not the remotest correspondence with public opinion.
Although many people protested and even continued to deny the existence of an Italian nation, a miracle had somehow happened. The skill and noble ambition of a few brave men, a fortuitous moment in European diplomacy, the obstinate convictions of a growing class of intellectuals, and a sudden wave of enthusiasm which equated unity with everything that was noble and profitable, all these in fortunate combination realised Mazzini’s utopian dream just when Mazzini himself was utterly disillusioned and forced out again into the bitterness of exile. Deputies from all over Italy were elected to the parliament which opened at Turin in February 1861. Unluckily the session was marred by an unseemly brawl between Garibaldi and Cavour. Little enough had been done to seal the union when, in June, Cavour was taken with a severe fever: the doctors bled him half a dozen times or more until his last resistance was sapped; then Fra Giacomo charitably defied an ecclesiastical interdict and accorded him the last rites. He died when still some months before his fifty-first birthday. It was the greatest misfortune that he did not live to turn his mind to the baffling problems of reconstruction.
In twelve years Victor Emmanuel had had but three prime ministers, now he had one a year: Ricasoli in 1861, Rattazzi in 1862, Farini and then Minghetti in 1863, General La Marmora in 1864, then Ricasoli and Rattazzi again, General Menabrea in 1867, and Lanza in 1869. Politics were fickle and disorganised, partly because there was so little clear difference of opinion. Cavour no more than D’Azeglio had encouraged formation of a parliamentary opposition, and when out of office in 1852 and 1859 had merely left Turin to await a favourable moment for recapturing power. After his death, many small personal groups jostled somewhat aimlessly for place, for they had been brought up to an unhealthy dependence on a single man.
There was general agreement on the problems to be solved: the acquisition of Venice and Rome, the levelling out and assimilation of diverse laws and customs, the suppression of counter-revolution, and the achievement of financial equilibrium. This last problem can be illustrated by the fact that, in some years, expenditure was half as much again as revenue. To remedy this the currency was debased and ecclesiastical property nationalised, and taxes were raised on food until many people fell to starvation level. One major source of expense was that sixty battalions of troops had to be sent almost at once to quell a civil war which dragged out for four years in the south. Bourbonists and papalists exploited the wish for local autonomy and the hatred of northern conscription and taxes, while the economic discrimination of government and landlords kept the peasantry a revolutionary instead of a conservative force. Martial law had to be applied also in Sicily, where the annual quota of military recruits mostly contrived to disappear into the hills and expand the veritable army of outlaws. On one occasion a separatist government actually came into being at Palermo. The casualties in this wasting war were to outnumber those in all the battles for national independence put together; for in all the regular campaigns between 1848 and 1870, the total price of independence and unity was estimated at some 6000 dead and 20,000 wounded—a small cost for such an achievement.
Venice was won in 1866. The Austrians had first offered to surrender it without fighting, to avoid a war on two fronts, but Italy needed the prestige of an armed victory and refused. The resultant war concluded ingloriously when Italy, despite superior numbers, was defeated at Custoza again, and on sea at Lissa. But as her ally Prussia won an overwhelming victory (cf. ch. XIX, p. 519), Austria ceded Venice to Napoleon, who passed it on. Rome was more difficult, for the pope was less amenable than the Austrian emperor, and negotiations repeatedly came to nought. Garibaldi made another attempt to march on Rome in 1862, having been encouraged to think that Rattazzi would stand aside ready to exploit his success or failure. Instead, the royal troops wounded and captured him at Aspromonte. Much the same happened again in 1867, when Menabrea unwillingly found himself in a position where he had to try to help the French defeat Garibaldi’s volunteers at Mentana. Most people—D’Azeglio being a notable exception—felt that, without Rome, Italy would not be Italy: quite apart from sentimental considerations, other regions were increasingly loth to allow precedence to Turin or any other merely provincial centre. Finally, in 1870, the unexpected victory of Prussia over France brought a withdrawal of the French protecting garrison, and, at the moment when papal infallibility was proclaimed, the Italians marched into Rome against merely token resistance. This was not quite Mazzini’s idea of national redemption by popular initiative; but what to Mazzini seemed but the ghost or the corpse of Italy, to others appeared real enough. A ‘geographical expression’ had come to life. With the acquisition of Rome, the risorgimento seemed, for the time being, to be complete.