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Italy in the 1850s - 1860


battles of Magenta and Solferino
battles of Magenta and Solferino

Following the revolutions in 1848 and 1849, constitutional government in Italy survived only in Piedmont. Liberals from all over Italy flocked to Turin, capital of Piedmont, where the dominant figure in the new constitutional government was Count Camillo Benso di Cavour. Cavour was a skilled politician and diplomat who believed that progress and democracy, though not necessarily welcome, were unavoidable. His relations with Victor Emanuel were always tense. However, as prime minister he invested in roads, canals, and railways, attracting foreign capital and introducing measures that expanded Piedmont’s trade.

Despite opposition from conservative forces, Cavour began to take a closer interest in the national question. In 1855 Piedmont entered the Crimean War on the side of France and Britain, providing an opportunity for the kingdom later to seek French support. In 1858 Cavour met secretly with French emperor Napoleon III, who agreed to support Piedmont in the case of an Austrian attack. The next year Cavour provoked the Austrians into issuing a declaration of war, which triggered French intervention.

The Franco-Italian coalition won the battles of Magenta and Solferino in 1859, but the battles proved costly. Fearing the consequences of a long war, Napoleon III concluded a preliminary agreement with the Austrians in July 1859 without consulting the Italians. Victor Emanuel accepted the Treaty of Zürich by which Austria ceded most of Lombardy to France, which in turn transferred two Lombard cities to Piedmont. In the meantime Cavour’s allies in other northern Italian states had been busy staging revolutions to provide a pretext for plebiscites that would approve annexation to Piedmont.

In 1860 the people of Romagna and the duchies of Parma and Modena voted for union with Piedmont. France, in return for its collaboration, obtained the regions of Nice and Savoy, although Napoleon III felt that he had been cheated and that France deserved greater reward. However, the British government warned France that any French territorial expansion in Italy would lead to war.

In April 1860 Palermo in Sicily rose against Francis II, king of the Two Sicilies. In May, Garibaldi, with Cavour’s secret support, led an expedition of 1,000 men from Genoa to aid the Sicilian revolt. Garibaldi’s landing triggered a general uprising, and the Bourbon military commanders soon abandoned Sicily. In August, Garibaldi attacked the Italian mainland. Cavour decided to intervene, fearing that control of the south would encourage Garibaldi to attack Rome and almost certainly lead to war with France, the protector of the pope. On the pretext of defending the pope, Cavour sent a Piedmontese army led by Victor Emanuel through the Papal States to cut off Garibaldi’s advance. Garibaldi loyally surrendered his command to Victor Emanuel. Trapped between

Garibaldi’s forces and the Piedmontese army, Francis II requested an armistice. The Bourbon dynasty had collapsed, and the largest of the Italian states, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, no longer existed. Hurriedly organized elections legitimized the annexation of the southern provinces and Sicily to the kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont). Similar elections in the former papal regions of Marche and Umbria also favored union with Sardinia. The pope was left with Rome and its immediate environs. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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