Italian Unification

Italian unification was a reaction against the Congress of Vienna, which imposed direct Austrian rule in many Italian states, and indirect Austrian control over others, such as Piedmont.  Since much of Italy was directly occupied by France in the Napoleonic wars, the French Revolution had a profound influence on many Italians, and the ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality.  Nationalism, for the Italians, began as a romantic idea as a prelude to a democratic representative government that would realize the French revolutionary ideals.  This ideal would be realized, to many, only after the foreign Austrian rule was overthrown.  Unification was also supported by conservative politicians because it facilitated economic development, as northern Italy was undergoing industrialization and unification would lead to a larger market, more uniform currency, manufacturing standards, transportation, and reduction or elimination of tariffs.

1. Defining nationalism: Joseph Mazzini(1805-72)

Joseph Mazzini, a native of Piedmont whose parents were deeply influenced by the French Revolution, was the first to give a cultural definition of nationalism.  The central theme of nationalism, for Mazzini, was the sharing of language, customs, historical tradition, hope, and geographical continuity.

2. Italian unification: political and economic reasons

Political: as Mazzini pointed out, a unified country could lead to a better representative state.

Economic: abolition of tariffs between states; uniformity of standards (e.g. for railroad lines), to promote mass production.

The 1848 revolution that swept across Europe for political representation and national unification also electrified the Italians, enforcing the many political forces in Italy for their claim of national unification.

3. Different forces at national unification

  • Mazzini and his "Young Italy," (foudned 1831) and democratic ideals. Mazzini wanted a republican government. He had been a member of the Carbonari, a charcoal burners' association, actually a secret society that engaged in revolutionary activities against foreign rulers in Italy. In 1849-50, he was briefly one of the leaders who established a Roman Republic, which ultimately failed. He remained a political activist for Italian unification even though he did not participate in the eventual Italian unification completed by 1871.
  • Count Camillo Cavour: minister of Piedmont, to bring northern Italy under his control.
  • Got Lombardy, smaller Northern states, and most papal states.
  • New Kingdom of Italy proclaimed with Victor Emmanuel II in 1860 - but without Rome and Venice.
  • Garibaldi and southern Italy

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) and the Red Shirts, separate from the northern unification movement, were determined to get rid of the Spanish  Bourbon control of southern Italy, which was allied with the Austrians.  They swept through the Kingdom of the Two Cicilies (1860),  southern Italy became part of the Italian state.  Garibaldi decided a unified Italy was to be under the leadership king Victor Emmanuel II, king of Piedmont.

4. The last phase of unification: Acquiring Venice and Rome

Italy took advantage of Austro-Prussian war of 1866 to get hold of Venetia - due to a previous agreement with Bismarck. The Final Act was in  1871 during the Franco-Prussian war. France, which was protecting Rome for the pope,  had to withdraw troops from Rome. Italian state troops move in and take Rome - united Italy.

5. Does modern Italy fit Mazzini’s vision of the nation?

  • Language yes, but history and customs, both yes and no. geographical continuity, yes.
  • Pro-State and Pro-Pope parties.
  • Huge class divisions.

Question: Did the nationalism defined by Mazzini fit our definition of nationalism today? What do you think are the most important elements of national unity?