Italaian Unification Notes

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Réka Szepesvári

History 20 IB

March 24, 2010

Notes on Italian Unification

Italy in the Early 19th century

  • Late 18th century – 11 states in the Italian peninsula
  • 1790s – 1814: France ruled most of the peninsula
  • Because of the fear of revolution  Austria took over the peninsula. Lombardy and Venetia were placed under direct Austrian rule, some Habsburgs ruled most states.
  • No federation under Austrian control (Italy is no more than a 'geographical expression'.
  • Carbonari – grievances (did not agree about the means to achieve their ends or even about the ends). All wanted to get rid of the monarchs and free Italy from Austria.


  • Revolutions in 1820-21 and 1831 were unsuccessful
  • 1831 – Mazzini – 'Young Italy' – make Italy 'one free, independent republican nation'
  • wanted war of national liberation against Austria (hoped for the support of the educated middle class and urban artisans, little fate in the peasantry – little interest in land reform)
  • Mazzini's efforts of war failed
  • 1836 – Mazzini was forced to disband 'Young Italy' – his movement was too idealistic, his writings on a united Italy influenced people

1848-49 Revolutions

  • 1846-47 – poor harvests → potential revolutionary situation
  • 1848-49 revolutions – changed everything, seen as evidence of growing national consciousness, local grievances were more important than Italian nationalism; Pope Pius dissociated himself from war against Austria and called on Italians to remain loyal to their present rulers
  • Mazzini appealed to France,  Austria and Spain for help
  • Garibaldi led a gallant defense of Rome before the city fell in July 1849
  • Pius set up a reactionary gov
  • King Charles Albert – reactionary → 1848 – granted a constitution (the Statuto) and went to war with Austria (more concerned to annex Lombardy and Venetia than to pursue the goal of a united Italy)
  • Charles Albert abdicated in favour of his son Victor Emmanuel II after he was defeated at Novara.
  • None of the constitutions except the Statuto (far from democratic) survived
  • lesson of the revolutions – romantic idealism could not succeed against the existing order unless supported by force
  • popular idea: Italy could only be unified by force (military strength of Piedmont)
  • National Society (1857) promoted this view – only few thousand member but substantial influence.
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Victor Emmanuel and Cavour

  • Emmanuel - cautious
  • Emmanuel's main aim – speed up Piedmont's recovery, wanted to fight Austria, extend Piedmontese influence in Italy with the idea of nationalism
  • Cavour (1852) – became prime minister
  • he was no revolutionary, believed in parliamentary institutions, no faith in full democracy, opposed Mazzini's republicanism, supported traditional Piedmontese aims to free Italy from Austrian influence and strengthen Piedmont by annexing territory in north and central Italy
  • realized they needed foreign help – 1855 – Piedmont joined Britain and France in the Crimean War (did not get the support he wanted, but made ...

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