Phase I | Phase
II | Phase III | Phase
IV | Phase V
Italian Unification or Italian Risorgimento is known as the chain of
political and military events that produced a united Italian
under the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. These events can be broken down
in five stages: Pre-Revolutionary, Revolutionary, Cavour’s Policy
and the Role of Piedmont, Garibaldi’s Campaign in Southern Italy,
and the creation of the Italian Kingdom.
I. Pre-Revolutionary Phase:
the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon Bonaparte’s second defeat,
the major powers that has resisted met at a conference called the Congress
of Vienna in 1815. The topic of discussion was to limit France’s
power, set limits on nations so no one nation become too strong, and
divide up the territory conquered up by Napoleon. In its negotiations,
the congress returned domination of the Italian Peninsula to Austria.
Austria now occupied Lombardy and Venice and had considerable influence
on other Italian states. One of the few places of independence was
the Kingdom of Sardinia, which now controlled Piedmont, Nice, Savoy
Some of the things that conflicted and interfered with the unification process
were: Austrian control of Lombardy and Venice, several independent Italian states,
the autonomy of the Papal States, and the limited power and influence of Italian
II. Revolutionary Phase:
During the first half of the 19th century, only aristocrats, intellectual, and
upper middle class took the cause for unification. The masses showed no concern.
However, the people with a passion for unification started to form secret societies,
namely the Carbonari. Although at first, they only demanded more rights from
their respective government, the cause began to grow. By 1820, the Carbonari
were involved in numerous failed revolutions against the Kingdom of Two Sicilies,
the Kingdom of Sardinia, Bolonga, and other Italian states. However, the Austrian
Empire crushed all of these revolutions; thus leading to more resentment from
The soul and spirit of the Carbonari and the revolutions was a man named Giuseppe
Mazzini. Mazzini was an idealized who wanted not only wanted a united Italy,
but an Italy with a republican form of government. Mazzini brought the campaign
for unification into the mainstream when in 1831 he created Young Italy, a group
created for the sole purpose to spread the ideas unification, revolutions, and
republicanism. In 1846, a liberal pope, Pius IX, was elected who enacted numerous
reforms. Soon, other states followed but these reform movements were not enough.
A series of uprising known as the Revolution of 1848 occurred throughout Europe
including France, Germany, the Austrian Empire, and northern Italy.
The revolution also occurred in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies were the king signed
a constitution. In the Papal States, radical took over Rome, causing the Pope
to flee. In the absence of the pope, Garibaldi and Mazzini created a republic
called the Roman Republic. In Piedmont, after the insistence of nationals, the
King Charles Albert sent to Lombardy in their fight for freedom from Austrian
Although some of the revolutions were successful in the beginning, they were
quickly crushed. In 1849, France sent troops to Rome and destroyed the short-lived
Roman Republic. Piedmont lost to Austria and the king was forced to abdicate,
causing his son, Victor Emanuel II to become king in 1849.
After the unsuccessful events of the last few years, unification would seem as
a distant dream. However, things were about to change with the appointment of
Count Camillo di Cavour as prime minister of Piedmont in 852. With the use of
all the political and military tricks in the book, Cavour tackled and succeeded
in making this dream into a reality. Italy and Europe would never be the same
III. Cavour’s Policy and the Role of Piedmont
After the numerous failed uprisings throughout Italy, Camillo di Cavour became
the prime minister of the Piedmont (Kingdom of Sardinia) in 1852. By the use
of bargaining, putting great powers against each other, war, and political cunning,
Cavour was able to unite Italy in a short time.
Although Piedmont was a small state, it had considerable influence due to
its military strength, conservative philosophy, and admirable political leader.
In addition, Victor Emmanuel II ruled in conjunction with a parliament, thus
a legitimate stable form of government and not giving cause to an internal
revolution. Although Piedmont exercised a conservative policy, it was loose
in many areas, especially commerce and industry. With the use of commercial
treaties, Piedmont began to play an increasing role in commerce in the region
as it started
to win trade away from Austria. These actions served very popular with the
public and were received further progress with Cavour’s appointment in 1852. Cavour
had a strong belief in scientific and economic progress, and was a firm supporter
of unification. However, he did not share the same republic views as Mazzini
and Garibaldi. In Cavour’s view, unification needed a strong state
to lead, namely Piedmont. And Piedmont can only become strong with railroads,
freedom, stable finances, and a higher standard of living.
Cavour immediately began by implementing some liberal (but necessary) ideas.
He encouraged people to participate in government, started to change public opinion
by skillfully using the press and the government, and economic freedom, and most
importantly spread the propaganda of Italian unity under Victor Emanuel II.
In order to achieve his goals, Cavour needed the help of a strong ally, the leader
of France, Napoleon III. France proved to be a good partner because it was a
traditional enemy of Austria and any loss of Austrian influence would be beneficial.
Also, Napoleon III showed favor to a liberated and united Italian peninsula.
To seal the deal of this partnership, both leaders met secretly at Plombieres,
a French spa. Piedmont would stir up trouble in one of the territories controlled
by Austria, thus forcing Austria to go to war against Piedmont. France would
help Piedmont in exchange for Nice and Savoy.
In April 1859, war broke out between Piedmont and Austria. The plan worked very
well the joined forces of Piedmont and France won at Magenta and Solferino. Pretty
soon, Prussia started to mobilize an army in Austria defense and more Italian
provinces wanted to join Piedmont under one nation. Both of these events alarmed
Napoleon III because Prussia was starting to have a strong presence in European
affairs and more Italian states wanting unification greatly exceeded what he
had envisioned for Italy. So he signed an armistice with Austria and ended the
war but angered Cavour.
Piedmont received Lombardy from Austria as a result of the war. After the
war and the political maneuvering, Piedmont had greatly increased its size.
Garibaldi’s campaign in southern Italy would more than double the size
of the kingdom.
IV. Garibaldi’s Campaign in Southern Italy
If Mazzini was the soul of the unification process, then Garibaldi was the hero.
In early 1860, he started to gather volunteers in Genoa for an expedition to
Sicily. As Cavour neither opposed nor helped, thousands of soldiers from Romagna,
Lombardy, and Venetia set sail for Sicily in May 1860.
The Expedition of Soldiers, as it was called, was an instant hit with the public.
The Kingdom of Two Sicilies had long been a corrupt government and now it was
seeing its last days. Although the Garibaldi Red Shirts were less skilled and
ill equipped, they were a tremendous success. They occupied Sicily within two
months and already Garibaldi was setting his eyes on mainland Italy. However,
after his declaration to advance to Rome, instead of stopping in Naples, Cavour
became increasingly worried. If Rome was attacked, France and Austria would immediately
help the Pope and crush the opposing army, thereby discrediting and destroying
the unification agenda.
In yet another brilliant move, Cavour encouraged riots and uprisings in the Papal
States thus giving the Piedmontese troops a reason to come under the pretext
of maintaining order. In 1860, two thirds of the Papal States joined Piedmont
and Rome was left alone. As the Piedmontese army bypassed Rome and the remaining
Papal States and marched south, Garibaldi would surprise everyone with one of
the most memorable gestures in history. On September 18, Garibaldi gave up command
of his army and shook hands with Victor Emanuel II, signifying the unity and
formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
V. Creation of the Italian Kingdom
Although a Kingdom of Italy had been formed, it did not include all of Italy.
The missing parts were Rome and Venetia. Neither could be gained easily because
Rome was under the protection of Napoleon III and French troops while Venetia
was controlled by Austria and its troops. But an opportunity arrived and Venetia
was annexed in 1866. That opportunity was the Seven Weeks' War between Austria
and Prussia. Austria promised Venetia if Italy stayed neutral and Prussia promised
Venetia if Italy joined them in the war. Italy decided to join Prussia due to
a previous agreement. Although the Italian army did poorly, Prussia won the war
and it held up its part of the bargain.
In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War occurred between France and Germany and Napoleon
III was forced to pull the French troops from Rome to aid the war effort. While
Rome and the remaining Papal States remained unprotected, Italian troops marched
in unopposed. In October 1870 Rome voted to join the union and in July 1871,
it became the capital.
The unification was a long and arduous process. But all the problems that remained
before the unification were not solved after the unification. As the last quarter
of the century unfolded, this was evident. But, Italy stayed united and focused
on solving its new problems. In the end, Cavour, Garibaldi, and Mazzini became
the founding fathers of a nation and were immortalized.