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Was Italy any closer to unification in 1849 than she had been in 1847?

Categories: ItalyNationalism

The Italy of 1847 was as Kemp describes, “the disadvantaged latecomer” in more respects than one. After all she had not seen any agricultural or industrial revolution and her economy was extremely weak and localised largely to the stronger Northern states, although there is evidence of metallurgy and a small cotton industry in Naples. But the link between economic development and change however important was not the major one, for was Italy to have any drastic and successful degree of change it would have to be through Politics and the ideologies of major Politicians.

The major point in this period was undoubtedly the Revolutions of 1848, and although not a popular revolution, due to the lack of peasant support, it was nevertheless one that would bring a sense of hope and an encouraged feeling of nationalism to most, although perhaps not in the short term.

There was disunity amongst the states with drastic differences between them, and only 2 stood out as real leaders capable of leading Italy into a new era, namely Piedmont and The Papal States.

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These however were only two strong links in a chain that was largely completed with weaker links.

The Papal states’ political outlook had changed quite markedly pre-1848, for example they had been given a limited freedom of speech and also he appointed a non-clerical council to help run the State, this change was due to the new Pope, Pias IX, coming to leadership in 1846, and with him he brought what appeared to be a largely liberal outlook, shown in his freeing up of the press censorship, and also the means of acting as a catalyst to the large Anti-Austrian feeling at the time.

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The Economy there was in a decent state and during his first few months in office, Pias followed progressive policies, such as the promotion of railways, of gas-lighting and importantly he also focused on the Agricultural Institution. Most importantly however he put forward an idea for Italy to have a customs union, similar to that in Germany at the time. No doubt this proposal was taken seriously and influenced the mass of peoples, through the Pope’s influence in an intensively religious country. However it was ultimately rejected by Piedmont who did not wish for the Papacy to be seen ahead of them in the stakes for leadership. But once Italy had viewed herself as a unit economically it would be a step closer to seeing herself as a political unit and therefore closer to unification.

Piedmontese politics was the one that, despite little drastic change in this period, would lead the way forward for Italy. As an advanced area in Italy under the leadership of the liberal Charles Albert and then Victor Emannuel II she was pivotal in the outcome of Italy, and she played a major part in this outcome after the revolutions of 1848, emerging as a state with far greater influence on not only Italian but also European affairs.

The Revolts started in Sicily with the revolt of Sicilians against the mainland Naples, which I feel was a catalyst to the North who felt they could not be left behind by the South, and so then led to the start of the revolutions on mainland Italy. These revolutions saw the break in tension of Anti-Austrian feelings, highlighted in Austrian controlled Lombardy-Venetia, her taxes were the backbone of the Austrian empires and as a result the Milanese in January 1848 decided to hold a protest by not smoking and thus depriving a vast amount of tax to the Austrians. This was followed by revolts in Tuscany and Charles Albert being forced to grant a constitution on 15th March. By this time however the Lombardians were reinforced in their revolts, mainly through the Piedmontese army, and there happened a 5 day battle at in which Austria were expelled from Lombardy and they retreat into ‘The Quadrilateral’. This prompted an uprising in Venetia and again the Austrians were excluded and an independent republic was formed under leadership of Danielle Manin.

This was a major breakthrough, as it showed that the Austrians could be defeated to the extent of retreat, although this was definitely aided by the fact that at the time there were uprisings in Austria, which meant Metternich couldn’t send troops as reinforcements. Also importantly there was for the first time a co-ordination between separates States and forces as this battle involved not only the rebels in Lombardy-Venetia, but also had the backing of Piedmont under Charles Albert, Neapolitan forces and The Papacy, although the latter may not have been through the Pope’s discretion. Added to this there was a unity of purpose between the moderate and more radical elements for the first time so drastically.

Despite this the Austrians strength showed through when they were regrouped and re-motivated by General Radetzky, and they defeated the forces that had humiliated them and this humiliation bore savage reprisals. This led to the abdication of Charles Albert after defeat at Novara and his son Victor Emannuel II took the leadership.

Lombardy-Venetia was brought back to its original state, and something positive definitely came out of this, as the provisional government was not interested in agriculture, even although between 1845 and 1847 the wheat prices had doubled and the unemployment and tax had fallen quite markedly. The tax collectors were harsh and in a police report it is stated that, “the tax collector takes their beds and cooking pots” due to the lack of any capital in Venetia, it was in poverty, and although not as bad as some places in Italy, she was the worst of the Austrian controlled states and had showed little progress through the last 5 years. So here is a case for revolution that is not just about a feeling of nationalism and anti-Austrian, it is of a much older and obvious cause, poverty. In this state no major trade was evident pre-revolution and even the agricultural trade was being hit by the taxes imposed on them for the Austrian Empire, but in unison with the much stronger Lombardy her state was improved post revolution.

Piedmont however was in the best position of any of the states in Italy, she had a sound economic system, which was soon to be bolstered further with the appointment of Cavour as her finance minister and although having only 8km of railroads in 1848 she was within 10 years the state in which theirs was the best transport, which can only suggest economic progress. Charles Albert was key to this situation and his softened grip on the Corn Laws in 1834 suggests he wished for a stronger trade, to this he followed the vast majority of Europe at the time and changed from a protectionist system to that of a liberal one, reducing many tariffs and signing treaties for others. Here was progress that was not seen in many states at the time, added to this her good international communication, which was also evident in the Solasco Armistice that was agreed in Austria, in which Austria would leave her alone in return of the withdrawal of Piedmontese troops from Lombardy-Venetia.

Importantly also, in Piedmont, we see a broadening of the basis of society and although small, we see a surge of the middle classes into higher jobs, most markedly the army and The Royal Council, this was vital in the economy as it has been shown that you cannot have an advanced economy without a successful middle class.

Early 1849 saw the March into the Papal States by Mazzini, who led a charge against what he saw as the key to Italy, Rome and to this day there stands a statue to commemorate this, the caption of which reads, “Roma o Morte”, Rome or Death. This signified the end of the ‘King’s War’ and the start of the ‘People’s War’ in which the Risorgimento was the main driving force. The Pope had fled following an earlier assassination of Rossi, a member of his Government and so with this and the occupation of Austria, Mazzini had the perfect opportunity to establish a Republic, with his forces of mainly middle classes, which he did and from this emerged Garibaldi, however France intervened and after only 3 months and despite spirited defence the republic was defeated. This had no real lasting effect on the Papacy who were possibly stronger after this because of the reprisals and the lasting effects of defeat upon Mazinni’s forces.

The revolutions of 1848-9, which had once seemed to sweep all before them, were thus largely undone yet left several direct legacies, mainly due to the strength of the Austrians. There was profound reform of the lot of the peasantry over much of central Europe as approved by the Austrian Constituent Assembly on 7th September 1848, and also the imparting of impetus to Nationalism in the Italian Peninsula and in “the Germanies.” Enduring change towards more inclusive representation or constitutional government also occurred in Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Switzerland. And even still it had proved that Austria was not willing to tolerate any change and would use her strength to deal with all issues of hers, both externally and internally, but with the fall of Metternich this policy changed to concentration on her internal systems.

So what had Italy actually learnt through this promising but unsuccessful revolution, for a start we can look at the defeat of the Austrians as a major breakthrough as from it she learnt that although Austria was defeatable it would have to be with external aid, this was perhaps the greatest factor to come from the imminent failure of the revolutions, but also Italy learnt that the lack of a political leader and statesman would have crippled her chances drastically, this was later to be provided by Cavour. Austria had lost hers in the fall of Metternich, but most importantly Italy and especially Piedmont learnt that the only way for a successful revolution would not be, ‘Italia Fara Se’ but that she would have to rely more upon external aid, there was also the chance here to feel more Italian than there had been post revolution, nationalism was the growing feeling of the multitudes.

Post Revolution Italy was one of mixed reactions, on the one hand there were positives such as the continual rise of leadership in Cavour and the demise of Metternich, but also there were many negatives such as the overt Austrian Presence and the negative effect defeat had on Italian Nationalism and the Risorgimento.

It is clear though that the Risorgimento and Mazzini were still around at the time of Revolution, but that now they would not be the catalysts now for major change, this was established through Piedmont, who’s leadership credentials were firmly established by the constitutional framework that was set-up in 1849, and with the instatement of Victor Emannuel there was a successful partnership forming between him and Cavour.

Ideologies in this period were not changed drastically, even although there was a lack of huge literacy and so the writings of Cattaneo and Gioberti and others were largely only supported by the small literate middle classes, but also quite proportionally by students. Despite the setback in the Roman Republic the Risorgimento’s support was quickly increasing and the feeling was largely turning to that of nationalism within Italy, and for it emerged a new figure, that of Garibaldi. The general outlook however was now one of liberalism that stood out amongst the relaxed press censorings that enabled Cavour to publish his paper, ‘Il Risorgimento’ in which he demanded a constitution, that was later granted, and supported industrial action, a sure way to bolster the economy.

Italy had been through a lot between 1847-1849 and although no drastic change was evident, she was certainly closer to unification by ’49 than she was in ’47. Although this closeness was not evident short term due to the unsuccessful nature of the revolutions, enough had been done to make clear that most importantly she was capable through Piedmont and the guidance there of Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II of change for better, whether this was of full unification or not was almost impossible to predict at the time, but she was certainly a country that was starting to find her feet in Europe.

Her economy in the stronger states was also becoming pro-Europe especially in Piedmont and Lombardy, this showed new leadership here that was capable of reviving the economy for greater purposes, Piedmont’s was especially made much more successful with Cavour at the head, she was in fact almost capable of competing in Europe’s economies, in as short a time as 10 years after the revolutions. She therefore stood out again as the only Italian state at the time with a constitution and the influence capable of leading a new Italy. Also the Risorgimento had again shown itself to be a powerful factor amongst the middle classes and students, and with the new major figure of Garibaldi it had young and inspirational leadership to guide it through the new era, one in which Italy would finally realise her dream and become closer to unification.

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Was Italy any closer to unification in 1849 than she had been in 1847?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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