- Italy became a fully unified state only after 1870. To this point Italy had been divided into numerous medieval states that lost their independence in the early modern period. When Napoleon crossed the Alps seeking military glory, he brought with him the Enlightenment principles of the French Revolution, which inspired generations of Italians in their long struggle for national unity. Napoleon Bonaparte annexed portions of the peninsula to the French Empire, ending the pope’s temporal power, but also consolidated the rest into the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Naples. He extended constitutions, centralized administration, and introduced a modern legal code based on equality before the law. Napoleon’s Continental System integrated the Italian economy with the rest of Empire’s, and, although often exploitive, provided Italian workers with the technical expertise to sustain a modest industrial expansion. The reforms created a meritocracy that supported the Napoleonic regime for a time but, more important, provided invaluable experience and inspiration to those who later completed Italian unification after the fall of Napoleon.Napoleonic rule with its onerous conscription, taxation, repression, and economic exploitation alienated many Italians who formed secret societies and started insurrections across the peninsula. One group, the Carbonari, the coal-burners, consisted primarily of bourgeois democrats who wanted true constitutional government and pressured Joachim Murat, the king of Naples and one of Napoleon’s marshals, into granting them one. Murat refused, but domestic opposition weakened him and his eventual defection to the Allies was one factor in Napoleon’s loss of Italy. Interestingly, the former rulers were then returned to power, but Murat kept his throne. Murat hated the Austrians, and when Napoleon returned for the Hundred Days, Murat declared war on Austria asking the Italians to join him in a war of national liberation. They did not. Murat failed miserably, was captured and executed. With him, however, died the hope for unification for the time being.The Congress of Vienna restored the absolutist rulers and extended to them the protection of the Holy Alliance, a military agreement between Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Prince Metternich of Austria announced that the Alliance would intervene in Italy to stop revolutionary violence and thus suppress liberalism and nationalism. The Carbonari returned, joined by other patriots in the movement for national freedom known as the Risorgimento , or resurrection. Insurrections again erupted throughout the 1820s, but these were localized and easily crushed. In the midst of the Italian-wide revolutions in 1848, King Charles Albert of Piedmont granted his people a constitution in defiance of Austria. Reminiscent of Murat, he then went to war against Austria on their behalf but also failed.In 1831, the Carbonari had given way to a more ideological group, Young Italy, led by Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini believed the Risorgimento should first concentrate on deposing the Italian monarchs, including the pope, to encourage the growth of republics, and Young Italy was involved in several plots against Charles Albert. The violence alienated moderate supporters who hoped the pope and the king would both cooperate in freeing Italy. Pope Pius IX was sympathetic to liberalism but rejected its adherence to secularism and anticlericalism, and the violent methods of Young Italy distressed him. The reasonable leadership remaining for the Risorgimento was with Piedmont.Prime Minister Count Benso di Cavour of Piedmont believed only a unified state could make the necessary political, military, and diplomat preparations to defeat Austria. He reformed the finances and trade policies, built railways, enlarged the army, and concluded a military alliance with France. In June–July of 1860, the allies drove the Austrians from northwestern and central Italy, which were then annexed to Piedmont by plebiscites. Southern Italy, except for Rome, was similarly disposed of after Giuseppe Garibaldi wrestled Sicily and Naples from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Once the plebiscites were finished, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in March 1861, although Venice, Rome, and Trieste were not incorporated until 1866, 1870, and 1919, respectively.The consequences of the Risorgimento emerged over the next several decades and lingered well after 1914. State and Church relations were marked by mistrust and hostility. The Papal Non Expedit forbade Catholics from participating in politics, thus denying the new state a natural constituency. In return, Italy passed the Law of Guarantees in 1870 that allowed the pope to occupy the Vatican and granted him diplomatic rights but withheld compensation for the loss of the papal states. Second, the unification alienated reactionaries, republicans, and socialists many of whom remained outside of politics with a minority embracing violence. In 1900, an anarchist killed King Umberto I, an event the political right tried to use to end constitutionalism. The new King Victor Emmanuel III came out strongly in favor of democratic reforms.During this period aristocratic, monarchial, northern, and agricultural interests dominated parliament under the rubric of the right. Its members had fought in the Risorgimento, not out of nationalist sentiments but out of loyalty to the king. The right supported limited constitutional government, but feared social revolution and favored those policies that enforced stability. Although most members of the right were believers, they wanted the State to control secular life, not the Church. Finally, the right supported free trade, balanced budgets, and fiscal stability. Unification had rendered the political left divided between radicals who advocated violence and rejected parliamentarianism, and constitutional liberals and moderate republicans, socialists, and Catholics who were committed to the democratic process but who were excluded from it. The left agreed with the right on secularism and was hostile to ecclesiastical interests. It supported the expansion of civil rights, universal male suffrage, and opposed militarism. Finally, the left believed in state intervention in economics and social welfare. The Statuto that Charles Albert had issued for Piedmont and which Victor Emmanuel II had extended to the rest of country formed Italy’s basic law. It established a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament chosen by a limited male franchise, and had certain civil rights protections. Integration, however, was accomplished by weakening the traditional local governments that undermined any balance to central authority. The constitution also failed to establish an independent judiciary, civil marriage, and divorce, which were the prerogatives of the Church, or a common penal code.Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister from 1903 to 1915, was exactly what Italy needed to address these frustrations. He pushed through universal male suffrage, an extensive welfare system, and pledged state neutrality in labor disputes. Giolitti, however, manipulated parliamentarians through the practice of trasformismo, which relied on political patronage to buy the loyalty of deputies regardless of ideology. Corruption was rampant, people distrusted the democratic process, and the government’s politics had angered major population groups - Catholic, Socialist, and Libera - leaving Giolitti unable to stop a vocal minority who then convinced parliament to enter World War I in 1915.Italian foreign and colonial policies were conservative in scope. Under Prime Minister Francesco Crispi, who served from 1887 to 1891 and again 1893 to 1896, Italy began to construct an overseas empire, by acquiring Eritria but then overreaching in Abyssinia and suffering humiliation at Adowa in 1896. Italy was also a member of the Triple Alliance with Austria and Germany, which brought stability with the Austrians following the wars of the Risorgimento. Irredentist desires to acquire Italianpopulated areas of Austria, remained a dead issue for the government. Anglo-Italian relations were cooperative because Italian colonialism was limited. Changes began to occur after 1910 when segments of the population demanded a more activist foreign policy in line with Italy’s growing prosperity. At that time Giolitti was trying to court Catholic and Nationalist deputies against the Socialists, and agreed to their demands to implement imperialism, which led to war against the Turks for Libya. Industrial expansion, which was slow before 1903, became more evident by 1910. Steel, railroads, ships, and automobile production became major segments of the industrial economy. The country had enough workers, its population was approximately 30 million, to sustain further growth. But Italy lacked necessary raw materials, such as coal, and a modern infrastructure: roads and railroads. Millions of Italians also emigrated to work outside the country. Education was problematic because technical subjects were not taught and mandatory education ended at grammar school. Social and cultural unity proved even more difficult. Italians shared a common religious tradition but little else. Each region had its own traditions, dialects, and practices that it sought to maintain after unification. Before 1914, Italians thought of themselves as Florentines, Neapolitans, or Romans, with the government doing little, except increase conscription, to build a common identity. Certainly the acquisition of Rome, which became the capital of Italy after 1870, provided a common historical reference, but the state did little to develop it. In the south, banditry was rampant and in the north irredentism led a minority of intellectuals to criticize Rome for ignoring the plight of Italians still living under Austrian occupation.The great struggle for unification was completed, but its legacy took time to solve. Modern Italy entered World War I as a unified state but not a united nation. Although it was independent, it was also underdeveloped and torn by deep social and economic fissures.FURTHER READING:Berkeley, G.F.-H. Italy in the Making. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932;Clark, Martin. Modern Italy, 1871–1995. New York: Longman, 1996;Di Scala, Spencer M. Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998;Hearder, Harry. Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento, 1790–1870. New York: Longman, 1983.FREDERICK H. DOTOLO
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.