To what extent was Austria the main obstacle to the unification of Italy in the period 1815-1849

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To what extent was Austria the main obstacle to the unification of Italy in the period 1815-1849?

In the period immediately after the Vienna settlement in 1815 and up to the widespread revolutions throughout Europe and especially Italy in 1848 and 1849, the prospect of a united Italy seemed almost a distant dream. There were a range of obstacles in between progress to a unified state. These included the outright strength of foreign powers and in particular of Austria in suppressing revolution and thereafter its ability to recover quickly. Also the parochial nature of the society, the lack of a universally accepted leader, the failure to coordinate activity and the lack of popular support were all obstacles to a united Italian state in this period. However, the domination of the peninsula by Austria was the single most important factor because without its strength the restored monarchs would have fell permanently and the lack of foreign influence could have united the new governments.

The influence and domination of the Italian peninsula by Austria along with its immense military advantage was a key obstacle to the unification of Italy in the period 1815-1849. Firstly, the Vienna Settlement in 1815 increased Austrian power over Italy and the reactionary Restored Monarchs were heavily influenced by Austria. This meant that the middle-class officials in the governments and the law courts were dismissed and replaced by the non-noble families which were uninterested in any form of Italian unity. The Austrian chancellor Metternich had a totally negative and reactionary approach meaning that he was strongly opposed to nationalism and had no intention of allowing nationalist ideas to undermine Austrian control. This meant that there was little chance for nationalists to work for a united Italy as they would be immediately suppressed and crushed. The military supremacy of the Austrians was evident in the revolutions of 1820 and 1831. In 1821 the Austrians crushed the revolution in Naples led by General Pepe and also defeated the Turin Rebels who had tried to defend the constitution granted by Charles Albert. This was particularly significant in that the Austrians could easily defeat any revolutionary activity and liberal progress meaning that there was no opportunity for states to unite and coordinate interests to fight for unity. Similarly in 1831 in Modena and the Papal States provisional governments were unsuccessful due to Austrian military power in suppressing the uprisings. The Austrian army was extremely well led and organised and the extent of this is evident in its ability to suppress the more widespread revolutions between 1848 and 1849. Revolutions had spread from Palermo throughout mainland Italy and other serious disturbances were occurring in 1848 as a result of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the King of Piedmont granting constitutions. However Austria quickly recovered from its weakened situation and by June of 1848 reinforcements had arrived from Austria and in July Charles Albert’s army was defeated by the Austrians at Custoza. The newly formed provisional government in Tuscany was also crushed by Austrians once they had defeated Charles Albert at Novara as they now had a free army. This proved that if the Italian revolutionaries wanted to unite Italy then they would need a considerable military force in order to pose a threat to the Austrians. Otherwise it was clear that Austria would simply suppress all revolutionary activity it disliked or which posed a threat to its control over the peninsula. In retrospect it is evident that even with a less parochial society and with a united aim the Italian revolutionaries could not mount a real threat due to the lack of experience and resources available. Therefore Austrian military might was overwhelming and hence is a more significant factor as an obstacle to unification. If there was no Austrian influence then it would have meant that the revolutions would have succeeded and more liberal governments in power would have had a greater chance in unifying the state. The Austrians were also able to recover quickly by staying in the Quadrilateral Fortresses and gaining more forces which meant that they were more prepared for each attack and this was another weakness of the Italian revolutionaries  This reinforces that Austrian was the main obstacle to Italian unification.  

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The lack of a universally accepted leader and hence the different political ideas between the leaders was another obstacle to a united Italian state in the period 1815-1849. This is particularly important because the natural leaders were unwilling to work together and each had a different ideology and a different way of uniting Italy. Mazzini who had founded Young Italy believed in a unitary, republican state through revolutionary methods. However, it was clear that revolutionary methods would not work due to the lack of a unified army and due to the parochial nature of society. Therefore, Mazzini was idealistic ...

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