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Count Camillo Benso di Cavour

Count Camilio Benso di Cavour was the statesman who presided over Italian unification, the architect of the Italian Constitution, and the first Prime Minister of the new Kingdom of Italy.

Table of contents
1 Growth and Studies
2 Early Political Career
3 Path to Unification

Growth and Studies

Cavour was born in 1810 in Turin, the principal city of Piedmont in north-western Italy, and at that time the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia (also known as the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia), ruled by the Italian House of Savoy. Born into a noble Piedmontese family, he was expected to enter a respectable career, which he did, becoming a Lieutenant Engineer in the Sardinian Army. However, because of his radically liberal views, he was pressured to leave the army and resigned in 1831. After his military career he travelled across Europe studying politics and agriculture.

Cavour's studies of government and his experiences during the July 1830 Revolution in France reinforced his liberal views. The successful constitutional monarchy set up under Louis-Philippe of France convinced him of the effectiveness of constitutionalism. Cavour, caught up in the nationalistic fervor of the early 19th century also yearned for a united Italy. Cavour's study of agriculture excited his interest in industrialization and infrastructure. These three attributes - a strong belief in liberalism, an extensive knowledge of technology, and the dream of a unified Italy - allowed him to modernize Italy both politically and technologically.

Early Political Career

With the election of the liberal Pope Pius IX to the papacy in 1846, Cavour felt that the chance for him to advocate reform had come. In 1847 he founded Il Risorgimento ("The Resurgence," later to become a general term for the unification of Italy), a newspaper espousing liberalism, constitutionalism, and unification. As editor, he soon became a powerful figure in Sardinian politics.

During 1848, a wave of violent revolutions swept Europe. The uprising in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies terrified King Charles Albert of Piedmot-Sardinia. Pressured by the influence of Il Risorgimento and by the mood of dissent in his kingdom, Charles Albert granted Sardinia a Charter of Liberties on February 8, 1848. Exhilarated with this success, Cavour then turned to urging Charles Albert to decalre war against Austria, which at that time ruled much of Italy through petty Hapsburg vassals. The perfect opportunity arose on March 19 when news arrived in Turin that Milan was in revolt against its Hapsburg ruler. On March 15, caving in to pressure from Cavour and his party, Charles Albert declared war on Austria.

Although Sardinia was defeated by Austria at the Battle of Novara and Italian revolutions were crushed in Lombardy, Venetia, and Milan, liberalism and nationalism in Italy were still resurgent - in the July elections of 1848, Cavour won a seat in the Sardinian Chamber of Deputies, and after his defeat by the Austrians, Charles Albert abdicated in favor of his more liberal and powerful son, Victor Emmanuel II. Under Victor Emmanuel's monarchy, Cavour's political career flourished. He became Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in 1850 and Minister of Finance in 1851.

After the failure of the revolutions of 1848 to overrun monarchies in Europe, Cavour reassessed his liberal beliefs and decided to abandon his idealism for realpolitik. Cavour reasoned that even if Italy could not be united by revolution, strong and calculating leadership might stand a chance. In his first two government positions, Cavour worked hard to strenghten Sardinia, reorganizing its army, legal system, financial system, and bureaucracy. He also encouraged the development of industry, including building railroads and factories, making Sardinia one of the most modernized European states of the time.

Path to Unification

In November 1852 Cavour became Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia. As Prime Minister, Cavour finally had an opportunity to extend his power into the realm of foreign affairs. In 1854, at the outbreak the Crimean War, he saw his opportunity to enhance his nation's international standing. Sardinia entered the war {February 1855} as an ally of Great Britain and France in exchange for promises that the future of Italy would be seriously considered as an international issue. After the war, Cavour used the Congress of Paris as an opportunity to denounce the neutral Austria's occupation of Italy.

Cavour was not the only important leader to rise to power in 1852 - that same year, Napoleon III became Emperor of France. Napoleon, a quasi-liberal, sympathized with Cavour's plan for Italian unification, and in July 1858 the two met at Plombières to shape Italy's future. At the meeting, Napoleon agreed that if Austria was to attack Sardinia, France would protect her. Cavour immediatly set to provoking Austria into war, and in April 1859 Austria attacked the small Italian state. However, after extremely costly victories at Magenta and Solferino, Napoleon III decided to withdraw from the war with the Truce of Villafranca. The treaty allowed the Austrians to keep Venetia and transferred the territories conquered by the Sardinians to their former rulers. Sardinia received only Lombardy. Although Cavour was furious at Napoleon, the situation soon reversed itself when the citizens ofTuscany, Modena, Parma, Bologna, and Romagna voted through plebiscites in March of 1860 to become part of Sardinia. Napoleon recognized these annexations in return for Savoy and Nice.

Soon after, the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi led his famous army of a thousand red-shirted adventurers into the Hapsburg-Controlled Kingdom of the Two Siscilies (May 1860), and Victor Emmanuel led his troops into the province of Umbria. The kingdoms voted for union with Sardinia, and the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in March of 1861. Cavour's territorial aims were complete except for Venetia and Rome - two months later, the Prime Minister died, his dream of a united Italy nearly fufilled. Venetia was added to the kingdom in 1866, and Rome in 1870.