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Italy in the first half of the 19th century


Giuseppe Mazzini
Giuseppe Mazzini

The period of the Italian struggles for independence and the creation of unified Italian state is known as the Risorgimento. In Italian the word means “resurgence,” and it refers to the rediscovery of a sense of national identity. At the time Italians viewed the Risorgimento as a continuation of the earlier Renaissance, after the long interruption of foreign invasions and domination from the 1500s to the mid-1800s. Nationalism, however, was only one of many developments that brought Austrian rule in Italy to a close and led to the creation of a single Italian constitutional monarchy ruled by the king of Sardinia. See also Italian Unification.

At first Italian opposition was directed against the autocratic regimes imposed by the Congress of Vienna, rather than against Austria. Revolt in Naples and Sicily in 1820 forced the Bourbon rulers to concede a constitution. Secret societies known as the Carbonari had organized the rebellion with that aim. Revolt in Piedmont followed, led by liberal army officers. Austria crushed these revolutions and in Lombardy imprisoned many advocates of political reform. In central Italy supporters of liberal reform staged a revolt against papal rule, but this too was savagely repressed by Austrian military intervention, and its leaders were executed.

The failure of the revolutions of 1820 and 1830 showed that Austria was the real obstacle to political change within the Italian states. This message lay at the heart of a new national, pan-Italian movement. The political thinker and revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini was its first and most tireless advocate. Born in Genoa (from 1814 part of the kingdom of Sardinia), Mazzini had the goal of creating a single Italian state, a republic of the Italian peoples. He called on Italians to abandon their secret societies and join instead his Young Italy (Giovine Italia). Mazzini had founded this revolutionary association committed to the cause of Italian nationalism while in exile in Marseilles in 1831. Shortly afterward Mazzini attempted to organize a revolution in Savoy, but it failed disastrously.

Historians continue to debate Mazzini’s influence on events in Italy. Except for brief periods, he remained permanently in exile. Although he was an inspirational figure for more radical nationalists, his insurrections always ended in failure, and he quarreled incessantly and bitterly with every other nationalist leader. However, by making the threat of revolution a reality in Italy, Mazzini did more than anyone else to mobilize more moderate political figures to address the dangers of political unrest in Italy.

A moderate program for Italian political reform and independence first took shape in the 1840s, at a time of recession and harvest failures in Europe.

As unrest continued, moderates became convinced that revolution was unavoidable unless the Italian rulers adopted constitutional reform and Austria permitted the Italian states greater freedom. Piedmontese priest Vincenzo Gioberti proposed that the Italian rulers form an independent confederation under the leadership of the pope, reviving the idea of the medieval Guelphs.

That proposal gained popularity after the 1846 election of Pope Pius IX, who was believed to favor political reform. Other moderates felt that the so-called neo-Guelph project was unrealistic and instead argued that the Piedmontese monarchy was best suited to lead an independent confederation of Italian princes. Count Cesare Balbo, an influential advocate of the claims of the Piedmontese rulers, also believed that a loose confederation could be achieved without war, by negotiation with Austria. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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