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The Revolutions of 1848 in the Italian States

The "parent" of this page and all references are at Revolution of 1848.

Table of contents
1 The Italian states in 1848
2 Early rumblings
3 The Austrian occupiers of the Piedmont
4 The Revolutions' beginning
5 The 1848 war with Austria
6 The Revolutions in Rome, their rise and fall
7 The Revolutions in Venice, their rise and fall
8 The end of the Revolutions in Italy

The Italian states in 1848

As Germany, there was no "Italy" at the time of the Revolutions of 1848, but a hodge-podge of states, ruled by absolute monarchs, most as rotten as any other absolute state. Italy did have positive points over other states; even the poor often owned their own land, and women had higher status than elsewhere, taking part in public affairs.

The Italian peninsula was more agricultural than most of Europe, ignoring Russia, who had no revolution in 1848. Farm products were subject to wild price uncertainty due to foreign competition and the backwardness of Italian farming contrasted to more efficient foreigners. There were food riots all through the 1840's to 1847; radical groups proliferated in Rome.

Early rumblings

Politically, Italians wished for liberal government and the removal of Austria from the Piedmont region. But these movements were restricted to a few city radicals, and some reform came from the surprising province of the Papacy. Upon his accession to the papacy in 1846, Pius IX was a relative liberal, giving political amnesties and other reforms such as a freer press.

Thus some Italian revolution preceded that after February 1848. In January of 1848, Naples and Sicily in the south received a constitution.

The Austrian occupiers of the Piedmont

The spider at the center of the Italian web was named Giuseppe Mazzini. In the 1830's he organized a secret society, Young Italy. A prime aim was kicking the occupying Austrians out of the Piedmont.

The Piedmont region was restless. The least corrupt and freest state of Italy, Lombardy's verdant land supported the most concentrated population in Europe, and by 1847 things were ripe. The Austrians took the town of Ferrara in the just across the border in the Papal States in July 1847, though they were ultimately forced out.

The Revolutions' beginning

Citizens in Milan planned to quit using tobacco or play lottery as of January 1 1848 , both of which fed the Austrian treasury, and Austrian soldiers, angry at the success, soon shot and killed 61 Italians. Citizens armed themselves, and while press freedom was announced, the Austrians began a siege of Milan, which the citizens broke, the Austrians withdrawing. The nobles and the rich opposed the revolution, and it was a matter of time. Most Milanese citizens in general wanted their former Austrian masters and their protective army, preferring the order of the Austria's double-headed eagle to the disorder of the republic.

The 1848 war with Austria

Mazzini, then in South America, showed up in June 1848. The hated Austrian taxes were gone, but the obvious revenue problems were never solved, and the Pope, who would not wage war with Catholic Austria, withdrew his support. The Kingdom of Naples likewise pulled out, and while the people now favored a republic, the Milanese were almost without allies, though Lombardy and the Piedmont joined forces.

Meanwhile, military fortunes reversed, the Austrians gaining ground. But with Vienna a mess and Hungary in rebellion, the Austrian government ordered Field Marshal Radetzky to make a truce, an order he ignored. The Italian leadership was so bad that Radetzky is reported to have ordered his gunners to spare the Italian generals, reasoning they might as well be on his side. The Italians, routed at Custozza in the end of July, fell back to Milan. The Austrians granted the right of civilians to leave, and Milan lost half her population. The Germans at least were proud of the fall of Milan on August 7. The Kingdom of Piedmont was alone, and the campaign ended at Novarra on March 23 1849.

Many were publicly flogged, and over 900 were executed for owning firearms. Wealthy patriots could pay large fines or lose their property. While Italy did moderate, independence was dead -- for about a decade. A re-invigorated Austrian Empire oddly made German unity impossible. The French, angry at seeing Italian republicans defeated, sent a force to Rome.

The Revolutions in Rome, their rise and fall

On November 15 1848, the Prime Minister of the Papal States was assassinated in Rome, and while a crime wave was avoided, no one, the Pope included, took charge, the Pope fleeing to Geata in the south. The authority that did take over passed popular legislation to eliminate burdensome taxes and give work to the unemployed. Mazzini came to build a Rome of the People. If he failed economics, he succeeded in inspiring his people to build a better nation, living in humble quarters, giving most of his salary to hospitals, and eating at second-rate restaurants.

Mazzini dramatically improved the status of the poor, taking some of the Church's large landholdings and giving them for free to grateful peasants. He inaugurated prison and insane asylum reforms, freedom of the press, secular education, but shied away from the "Right to Work," having seen this fail in France.

Runaway inflation might have doomed them without France's April invasion, and sending troops to defend the Piedmont from the Austrian pest put Rome at risk of attack from Austria. France beat them to the punch.

The French arrived April 20, 1849, though General Giuseppe Garibaldi's attack sent them back to the sea. A siege constricted Rome through June, and it was over in early July. While the French were moderate, the Pope did not return until assured of no French meddling in his affairs. Garibaldi escaped to the United States, only to return in the 1850s and help complete Italian unification. Mazzini fled to England; his days as a revolutionary were over. Venice still remained.

The Revolutions in Venice, their rise and fall

The Panic of 1847 left Venice questioning connection to the Austrians, and debating liberal movements bubbling elsewhere in Italy. Revolution came quickly, and shortly the citizens were armed. Soon Vienna passed civil and religious freedoms.

But Milan had fallen, and the Venetian feared the same fate. The Austrians blockaded the city during winter 1848 - 49. Blockade runners passed through -- for a time. On May 4, the Austrians began destroying the Venetian defenses. Soon no food could get in. The city surrendered in the end of August, after what is viewed as a heroic defense.

The end of the Revolutions in Italy

Sardinia's moderate regime managed better concessions against the Austrians then would be expected, but the Revolutions in Italy were over. The Risorgimento, the Italian nationalist movement, triumphed within twenty years anyway. But not in 1848.

Next: Consequences