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Italian unification

Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was a historical process by which the Kingdom of Sardinia (ruled by Savoy dynasty - capital Turin) conquered the Italian peninsula with the inclusion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Duchy of Modena, the Duchy of Tuscany, the Marches, the Abruzzi, and the Papal States.

The first part of this process ended in 1860 with the declaration of the Kingdom of Italy; the unification was completed by the conquest of Rome, capital of the Papal States, on September 20, 1870. The possession of Rome had a highly symbolic meaning, since it was the natural capital for the new national state. The conquest of the Papal States meant instead the ending moment of the temporal power of the papacy.

From Sardinia to Italy

The Sardinian kingdom would have ended by fusion in the kingdom of Italy.

Before the Napoleonic era the thought of a united Italy scarcely existed, and patriotism meant adherence to Sardinia, Naples, or some other of the many kingdoms and duchies.

After that era "union" became the watchword of the revolutionists, who felt that the only hope of giving Italy a position of dignity and honor among the nations lay in making it one country under one ruler.

The history of the nineteenth century in Italy is the record of the attempt to reach this end, and its successful accomplishment. And on that record the names of two men most prominently appear, Giuseppe Mazzini, the indefatigable conspirator, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, the valorous fighter; to whose names should be added that of the eminent statesman Count Cavour, and that of the man who reaped the benefit of their patriotic labors, Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy.

The basis of the revolutionary movements in Italy was the secret political association known as the Carbonari, formed early in the nineteenth century and including members of all classes in its ranks. In 1814 this powerful society projected a revolution in Naples, and in 1820 it was strong enough to invade Naples with an army and force from the king an oath to observe the new constitution which it had prepared. The revolution was put down in the following year by the Austrians, acting as the agents of the “Holy Alliance”—the compact of Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

An ordinance was passed, condemning anyone who should attend a meeting of the Carbonari to capital punishment. But the society continued to exist, despite this severe enactment, and has been at the basis of many of the outbreaks that have taken place in Italy since 1820. Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and all the leading patriotss were members of this powerful organization, which was daring enough to condemn Napoleon III to death, and almost to succeed in his assassination, for his failure to live up to his obligations as a member of the society.

Giuseppe Mazzini, a native of Genoa, became a member of the Carbonari in 1830. His activity in revolutionary movements caused him soon after to be proscribed, and in 1831 he sought Marseilles, where he organized a new political society called “Young Italy,” whose watchword was “God and the People,” and whose basic principle was the union of the several states and kingdoms into one nation, as the only true foundation of Italian liberty. This purpose he avowed in his writings and pursued through exile and adversity with inflexible constancy, and it is largely due to the work of this earnest patriot that Italy today is a single kingdom instead of a medley of separate states.

While Giuseppe Mazzini was thus working with his pen, his compatriot, Giuseppe Garibaldi, was working as earnestly with his sword. This daring soldier, a native of Nice and reared to a life on the sea, was banished as a revolutionist in 1834, and the succeeding fourteen years of his life were largely spent in South America, in whose wars he played a leading part.

The revolution of 1848 opened Italy to these two patriots, and they hastened to return, Giuseppe Garibaldi to offer his services to Charles Albert of Sardinia, by whom, however, he was treated with coldness and distrust. Giuseppe Mazzini, after founding the Roman republic in 1849, called upon Giuseppe Garibaldi to come to its defence, and the latter displayed the greatest heroism in the contest against the Neapolitan and French invaders. He escaped from Rome on its capture by the French, and, after many desperate conflicts and adventures with the Austrians, was again driven into exile, and in 1850 became a resident of New York. For some time he worked in a manufactury of candles on Staten Island, and afterwards made several voyages on the Pacific.

The war of 1859 opened a new and promising channel for the devotion of Giuseppe Garibaldi to his native land. Being appointed major-general and commissioned to raise a volunteer corps, he organized the hardy body of mountaineers called the “Hunters of the Alps,” and with them performed prodigies of valor on the plains of Lombardy, winning victories over the Austrians at Varese, Como and other places. In his ranks was his fellow-patriot Giuseppe Mazzini.

The success of the French and Sardinians in Lombardy during this war stirred Italy to its center. The grand duke of Tuscany fled to Austria. The duchess of Parma sought refuge in Switzerland. The duke of Modena found shelter in the Austrian camp. Everywhere the brood of tyrants took flight. Bologna threw off its allegiance to the pope, and proclaimed the king of Sardinia dictator. Several other towns in the Papal States did the same.

In the terms of the truce between Louis-Napoleon and Francis Joseph the rulers of these realms were to resume their reigns if the people would permit. But the people would not permit, and they were all annexed to Sardinia, which country was greatly expanded as a result of the war.

It will not suffice to give all the credit for these revolutionary movements to Giuseppe Mazzini, the organizer, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the soldier, and the ambitious monarchs of France and Sardinia. More important than king and emperor was the eminent statesman Count Cavour, prime minister of Sardinia from 1852. It is to this able man that the honor of the unification of Italy most fully belongs, though he did not live to see it. He sent a Sardinian army (Bersaglieri)to the assistance of France and England in the Crimea in 1855, and by this act gave his state a standing among the powers of Europe. He secured liberty of the press and favored toleration in religion and freedom of trade. He rebelled against the dominion of the papacy, and devoted his abilities to the liberation and unity of Italy, undismayed by the angry fulminations from the Vatican. The war of 1859 was his work, and he had the satisfaction of seeing Sardinia increased by the addition of Lombardy, Tuscany, Parma and Modena. A great step had been taken in the work to which he had devoted his life.

The next step in the great work was taken by Giuseppe Garibaldi, who now struck at the powerful kingdom of Naples and Sicily (Two Sicilies) in the south. It seemed a difficult task. Francis II, the son and successor of the infamous “King Bomba,” had a well-organized army of 150,000 men. But his father's tyranny had filled the land with secret societies, and fortunately at this time the Swiss mercenaries were recalled home, leaving to Francis only his unsafe native troops. This was the critical interval which Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi chose for their work.

At the beginning of April, 1860, the signal was given by separate insurrections in Messina and Palermo. These were easily suppressed by the troops in garrison; but though both cities were declared in a state of siege, they gave occasion for demonstrations by which the revolutionary chiefs excited the public mind. On the 6th of May, Giuseppe Garibaldi started with two steamers from Quarto, near Genoa, with about a thousand Italian volunteers (so-called I Mille) and, after a stop in Talamone, on the 11th landed near Marsala, on the west coast of Sicily.

He proceeded to the mountains, and near Salemi gathered round him the scattered bands of the free corps. By the 14th his army had increased to 4,000 men. He now issued a proclamation, in which he took upon himself the dictatorship of Sicily, in the name of Victor Emmanuel, king of Italy. After waging various successful combats under the most difficult circumstances, Giuseppe Garibaldi advanced upon the capital, announcing his arrival by beacon-fires kindled at night. On the 27th he was in front of the Porta Termina of Palermo, and at once gave the signal for the attack. The people rose in mass, and assisted the operations of the besiegers by barricade-fighting in the streets. But now General Lanza, whom the young king had dispatched with strong reinforcements to Sicily, furiously bombarded the insurgent city, so that Palermo was reduced almost to a heap of ruins. At this juncture, by the intervention of an English admiral, an armistice was concluded, which led to the departure of the Neapolitan troops and war vessels and the surrender of the town to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who thus, with a band of 5,000 badly armed followers, had gained a signal advantage over a regular army of 25,000 men. This event had tremendous consequences, for it showed the utter hollowness of the Neapolitan government, while Giuseppe Garibaldi's fame was everywhere spread abroad. The glowing fancy of the Italians beheld in him the national hero before whom every enemy would bite the dust. This idea seemed to extend even to the Neapolitan court itself, where all was doubt, confusion and dismay. The king hastily summoned a liberal ministry, and offered to restore the constitution of 1848 (Statute), but the general verdict was, “too late,” and his proclamation fell flat on a people who had no trust in Bourbon faith.

The arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Naples was enough to set in blazed all the combustible materials in that state. His appearance there was not long delayed. Six weeks after the surrender of Palermo he marched against Messina. On the 21st of July the fortress of Milazzo was evacuated, and a week afterwards all Messina except the citadel was given up.

Europe was astounded at the remarkable success of Giuseppe Garibaldi's handful of men. On the mainland his good fortune was still more astonishing. He had hardly landed—which he did almost in the face of the Neapolitan fleet—than Reggio Calabria was surrendered and its garrison withdrew. His progress through the south of the kingdom was like a triumphal procession. At the end of August he was at Cosenza; on the 5th of September at Eboli, near Salerno. No resistance appeared. His very name seemed to work like magic on the population. The capital had been declared in a state of siege, and on September 6th the king took flight, retiring, with the 4,000 men still faithful to him, behind the Volturno river. The next day Giuseppe Garibaldi, with a few followers, entered Naples, whose populace received him with frantic shouts of welcome.

The remarkable achievements of Giuseppe Garibaldi had filled all Italy with overmastering excitement. He had declared that he would proclaim the kingdom of Italy from the heart of its capital city, and nothing less than this would content the people. The position of the pope had become serious. He refused to grant the reforms suggested by the French emperor, and threatened with excommunication any one who should meddle with the domain of the Catholic Church. Money was collected from faithful Catholics throughout the world, a summons was issued calling for recruits to the holy army of the pope, and the exiled French General Lamoriciere was given the chief command of the troops, composed of men who had flocked to Rome from many nations. It was hoped that the name of the celebrated French leader would have a favorable influence on the troops of the French garrison of Rome.

The settlement of the perilous situation seemed to rest with Louis Napoleon. If he had let Giuseppe Garibaldi have his way the latter would, no doubt, have quickly ended the temporal sovereignty of the pope and made Rome the capital of Italy. But Napoleon seems to have arranged with Cavour to leave the king of Sardinia free to take possession of Naples, Umbria and the other provinces, provided that Rome and the “patrimony of St. Peter” were left intact.

At the beginning of September two Sardinian army corps, under Fanti and Cialdini, marched to the borders of the states of the church. Lamoriciere advanced against Cialdini with his motley troops, but was quickly defeated, and on the following day was besieged in the fortress of Ancona. On the 29th he and the garrison surrendered as prisoners of war. On the 9th of October Victor Emmanuel II arrived and took command. There was no longer a papal army to oppose him, and the march southward proceeded without a check.

The object of the king in assuming the chief command was to complete the conquest of the kingdom of Naples, in conjunction with Giuseppe Garibaldi. For though Giuseppe Garibaldi had entered the capital in triumph, the progress on the line of the Volturno had been slow; and the expectation that the Neapolitan army would go over to the invaders in a mass had not been realized. The great majority of the troops remained faithful to the flag, so that Giuseppe Garibaldi, although his irregular bands amounted to no more than 25,000 men, could not hope to drive away King Francis, or to take the fortresses of Capua and Gaeta, without the help of Sardinia. Against the diplomatic statesman Cavour, who fostered no illusions, and saw the conditions of affairs in its true light, the simple, honest Giuseppe Garibaldi cherished a deep aversion. He could never forgive Cavour for having given up Nice, Giuseppe Garibaldi's native town, to the French. On the other hand, he felt attracted toward the king, who in his opinion seemed to be the man raised up by Providence for the liberation of Italy. Accordingly, when Victor Emmanuel II entered Sessa, at the head of his army, Giuseppe Garibaldi was easily induced to place his dictatorial power in the hands of the king, to whom he left the completion of the work of the union of Italy. After greeting Victor Emmanuel in Teano with the title of King of Italy, and giving the required resignation of his power the day after with a telegram containing the sole word “Obbedisco” (I obey), he entered Naples, riding beside the king; and then, after recommending his companions in arms to his majesty's special favor, he retired to his home on the island of Caprera, refusing to receive a reward, in any shape or form, for his services to the state and its head.

The progress of the Sardinian army compelled Francis to give up the line of the Volturno, and he eventually took refuge, with his best troops, in the fortress of Gaeta. On the maintenance of this fortress hung the fate of the kingdom of Naples. Its defence is the only bright point in the career of the feeble Francis, whose courage was aroused by the heroic resolution of his young wife, the Bavarian Princess Mary. For three months the defence continued. But no European power came to the aid of the king, disease appeared with scarcity of food and of munitions of war, and the garrison was at length forced to capitulate.

The fall of Gaeta was practically the completion of the great work of the unification of Italy. Only Rome and Venice remained to be added to the united kingdom. On February 18, 1861, Victor Emmanuel assembled at Turin the deputies of all the states that acknowledged his supremacy, and in their presence assumed the title of King of Italy, which he was the first to bear. In four months afterwards Count Cavour, to whom this great work was largely due, died. He had lived long enough to see the purpose of his life practically accomplished.

Great as had been the change which two years had made, the patriots of Italy were not satisfied. “Free from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea?!” was their cry; “Rome and Venice!” became the watchword of the revolutionists. Giuseppe Mazzini, who had sought to found a republic, was far from content, and the agitation went on. Giuseppe Garibaldi was drawn into it, and made bitter complaint of the treatment his followers had received. In 1862, disheartened at the inaction of the king, he determined to undertake against Rome an expedition like that which he had led against Naples two years before. In June he sailed from Genoa and landed at Palermo, where he was quickly joined by an enthusiastic party of volunteers. They supposed that the government secretly favored their design, but the king had no idea of fighting against the French troops in Rome and arousing international complications, and he energetically warned all Italians against taking part in revolutionary enterprises. But Giuseppe Garibaldi persisted in his design. When his way was barred by the garrison of Messina he turned aside to Catania, where he embarked with 2,000 volunteers, declaring he would enter Rome as a victor, or perish beneath its walls. He landed at Melito on the 24th of August, and threw himself at once, with his followers, into the Calabrian mountains. But his enterprise was quickly and disastrously ended. General Cialdini dispatched a division of the regular army, under Colonel Pallavicino, against the volunteer bands. At Aspromonte, on the 28th of August, the two forces came into collision. A chance shot was followed by several volleys from the regulars. Giuseppe Garibaldi forbade his men to return the fire of their fellow subjects of the Italian kingdom. He was wounded, and taken prisoner with his followers, a few of whom had been slain in the short combat. A government steamer carried the wounded chief to Varignano, where he was held in a sort of honorable imprisonment, and was compelled to undergo a tedious and painful operation for the healing of his wound. He had at least the consolation that all Europe looked with sympathy and interest upon the unfortunate hero; and a general sense of relief was felt when, restored to health, he was set free, and allowed to return to his rocky island of Caprera.

The kingdom of Sardinia had completed its mission.

Modern day political problems as a result of unification

Some in Italy believe that there should be separation from Rome. There are two opposing views, one from the North and the other from the South. Some in the North believe it was a mistake to unify Italy while some in the South believe they are still being occupied by the North.

The North
The South

See also:

Note: Current Italian territory is mainly the same of 1870, it has been little modified after WWI, after WWII and during the 1950s (political extension over the former protectorate of Trieste).