The three revolutionaries Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour are the primary names associated with the process by which the many governments of the Italian peninsula came together as a unified kingdom. They all were pivotal in this unification process. In the years between 1830 and 1848 many events occurred in the country of Italy. The primary problems in Italy were a mix of economic depression, social clash, and radical ideas. Secret societies were formed, and because of this, many people were thrown in prison. However, being jailed did not stop or even hinder the revolutions, as the Italians were determined to reach their independence from the Austrians.
Giuseppe Mazzini was always surrounded by political dissent, and the resentment against the German-speaking foreigners in Vienna whose armies crushed Italian aspirations toward self-government. At the young age of 21, Mazzini began to combine opposition to all existing governments, desire for political freedom, and Italian nationalism into one, unified cause. At this time he also decided to wear only black clothing in order to express his mourning over the loss of Italian freedoms. The turning point of his life and eventually, one can argue, the turning point of Italy occurred in 1830 when Mazzini joined the conspiratorial society of the Carbonari. The Carbonari was a loosely organized group of liberal and radical revolutionaries. In this group Mazzini attended illegal meetings, distributed banned newspapers, acquired weapons, and took part in riotous antigovernment demonstrations.
Mazzini’s passion for Italy was essentially the driving force of his life. He was arrested and spent six months in a local fortress. During this time in solitude, he received his life’s calling; to devote his existence to the emancipation of Italy. He derived his motto “God and the People”. This motto was well thought out for many reasons. He actually believed that God had intended on all humans to find individual freedom. Secondly, the way to control the masses is to include God. If people believe they are fulfilling God’s virtues they will do almost anything. Mazzini asserted, “once all peoples had achieved political liberties and combined into national communities, they would pursue humanitarian goals and live in peace with one another” (Watkins 824). He stated that the reason the secret societies did not thrive was because they focused too much on the individual rights and freedoms. He called on all Italians to emphasize the sacred duty to make Italy a single nation under one government. His basic premise was that nationalism was cooperation among all peoples, not competition (Watkins 825).
Soon after his release from prison, Mazzini erected his own secret society, called Young Italy, or Giovanni Italia. He had only one goal; the unification of Italy under one republican government with civil and political freedom for all. Mazzini primarily recruited from the young, middle class. Much like his own background. He wrote hundreds of volumes of writing initiating propaganda for his troops. He stockpiled weapons, and prepared to fight with guerilla warfare (Watkins 824).
However, government officials discovered Mazzini’s activities and the exiled him. He lived in Britain where his popular opinion favored his cause. He did not return to Italy until 1848 where he helped to instantiate the revolution of 1848. Although he was defeated by foreign troops, his thoughts lived on. The societies of Young Hungary, Young Germany, and Young Europe were created because of him. Many people argue that every revolution was because of this man.
In 1848, Italy was widely considered one of the most democratic and liberal nations in all of Europe. Nevertheless, it was “under the suzerainty of a number of reactionary rulers” (Kauffman 848). The Kingdom of the two Sicilies was under the despotic king, Ferdinand II. The Papal States were under control of the pope, and the rule of Tuscany, Lombardy, and Venetia was profoundly under the influence of Austria. The only kingdom that had its own independence was that of Piedmont, ruled by Charles Albert. The roots of the Italian revolutions reach back to the Congress of Vienna and the restoration of the reactionary rule by which Austria dominated the peninsula.
Metternich, the minister of Austrian foreign affairs, was the man who enforced the settlements that were reached during the Congress of Vienna. The unfinished revolutions of 1820 and 1830 showed that the public was not satisfied with the “arbitrary rule, censorship of the press, and the secret police” (Sperber 52). Because of these harsh policies, secret societies like the Cabonari were generated, becoming the leaders in the movement for change. This movement was called “risorgimento”. Because of the clashing of propaganda and nationalist literature, a revolution seemed inevitable.
On January 12, a revolution took place in Palermo Sicily. Since Ferdinand II was on the brim of defeat he granted a constitution that was modeled after the French Constitution. However, the conflict eventually turned from the cause of political constitutionalism to the cause of Italian unity.
On April 29, 1848, Pope Pius IX officially disassociated himself with the nationalist war. This infuriated the public, saying that the pope betrayed the Italian cause. The first round of fighting ended when an under trained army was maliciously defeated in Milan. However, the pope’s betrayal resulted in anticlericalism in Rome. Pius IX was forced to flee from Italy and live in the Bourbon kingdom to the South (Sperber 98).
Political confusion ended in Rome when Mazzini established a republican democracy in Rome. However, on August 28 Austrian troops entrenched in the cities of Lombardy and Venetia. Shortly thereafter, monarchial rule was reinstated into Italy. It appeared that the revolution would be left to a later generation to accomplish.
The politicization of the Italian peoples during 1848 contributed to their success in achieving national unity a generation later. The national idea for Italy was the one concept that survived the defeats and disappointments of 1848.