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Describe the process of Italian unification in the 19th century

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During the 18th century, intellectual changes began to dismantle traditional values and institutions. Liberal ideas from France and Britain spread rapidly, and from 1789 the French Revolution became the genesis of “liberal Italians”. A series of political and military events resulted in a unified kingdom of Italy in 1861. The settlements reached in 1815 at the Vienna Congress had restored Austrian domination over the Italian peninsula but had left Italy completely fragmented . The Congress had divided the territory among a number of European nations and the victors of the Napoleonic Wars. The Kingdom of Sardinia recovered Piedmont (Piemonte), Nice, and Savoy and acquired Genoa.

There were three major obstacles to unity at the time the congress took place, i.e. (a) the Austrian occupation of Lombardy and Venice in the north, (b) the principality under the sovereignty of the pope, i.e. the Papal States that controlled the center of the Italian peninsula; and (c) the existence of various states that had maintained independence, such as the Kingdom of Sardinia, also called Piedmont-Sardinia, which located at the French border had slowly expanded since the Middle Ages and was considered the most advanced state in Italy. The Kingdom of Sardinia consisted of the island of Sardinia and the region called Piedmont in northwestern Italy. The Kingdom of Sicily that occupied the island of Sicily and the entire southern half of the Italian peninsula . Other small states were the duchies of Toscana (Tuscany), Parma, and Modena. In each of these states, the monarchs (all relatives of the Habsburgs, the ruling family of Austria) exercised absolute powers of government.

The story of Italy’s unification is a bit more complicated. The main figure in Italian unification was Camillo Cavour. Cavour was the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. He successfully modernized his kingdom and performed some tricky political maneuvers. Cavour brought attention to Italy plight by helping out in the Crimean war. This commitment of troops in Crimea had far reaching implications. In a secret meeting between Napoleon III and Cavour, it was decided that the Austrian holdings in Italy needed to be eliminated. Austria launched a pre-emptive attack on Piedmont, but was defeated by the combined forces of Italy and France. France pulled out of the war early by declaring an early peace and took more land then was originally agreed upon.

The kingdom of Piedmont still gained a significant amount of land though. Eventually through the efforts of Guiseppe Garibaldi, a popular Italian leader, all Italian areas except Austrian Venetia and the Papal States were secured for Piedmont. There were some attempts made on annexing this land, but unfortunately the Papal lands were under French protection, and Austria still occupied Venetia. By getting help from the Prussians, the Italians were finally able to take Venetia from the Austrians. The Papal Lands were also taken by Austrian help as well, but indirectly. The Franco-Prussian war made it necessary for the French garrisons in the Papal Lands to pull out, and so the Italians simply walked in and claimed the land for Italy.

The German and Italian wars of unification were both spurred on by the rising tides of Nationalism and Liberalism. The German cause was supported more by those on the top of the social pyramid, then those on the bottom. Germany’s Junkers were the main supporters Bismarck, who led Prussia to unification. The unification of Italy owes itself to the common folk much more then the German cause. The popular support of unification by the population was vital in the wars of unification. The armies led by Guiseppe Garibaldi were common Italians fighting for unification, versus the armies of Prussia who were basically fighting for expansion. Prussia unified Germany because it feared being swallowed up by Austria if Germany ever became unified, Piedmont started the process of unification because it saw how Italy was being occupied by foreign powers, and that unification was a popular cause that just needed a spark.

The wars of unification were an important stage in the development of Europe. The modern world was shaped back then by the revolutionaries of this time period. The strong leaders; Bismarck, Guiseppe Garibaldi, and Camillo Cavour led their countries to a great thing, unification.

Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot spearheaded a national revolutionary movement. Mazzini’s ideology of an independent integrated republic spread quickly among large segments of the Italian people. Revolutionary cells formed throughout the Italian peninsula.

Massive reforms that took place during the 1840s in the Papal States, Lucca, Tuscany, and the Kingdom of Sardinia were intended to slow the revolutionary movements, instead these reforms (1846 and 1847) only intensified the resolve of the revolutionary cells culminating in the Revolutions of 1848, that spread to Germany, the Austrian Empire, France, and parts of northern Italy.

The first revolution on the Italian peninsula took place in the Kingdom of Sicily, which resulted in a constitution for the whole kingdom. An insurrection in 1848 caused pope Pius IX to flee Rome and a republic was proclaimed. King Charles Albert of Sardinia mobilized his army and marched to the assistance of Lombardy and joined in the war to drive the Austrians from Italian soil.

While it initially looked as if the independence and unity of Italy was a realistic possibility, the Austrians defeated the Piedmontese and Charles Albert had to abdicate. His son, Victor Emmanuel II, succeeded him in 1849. A new revolutionary leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, could not avoid Rome’s destruction by the French in 1849. Only Sardinia held firm to their constitutional government

Count Camillo di Cavour became prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia In 1852 . It was his leadership and accommodating policies that led to the unification of Italy in little more than a decade.

Cavour was able to persuade Napoleon to a secretly planned war against Austria. By early 1859, Cavour had caused a crisis that provoked the Austrians to send an ultimatum demanding Piedmontese disarmament. As part of the “plan”, Cavour rejected the ultimatum which led to the subsequent war with the Austrians. The French came to the aid of the Piedmontese and the Austrians were defeated in the two major battles of Magenta and Solferino. The Austrians were forced to surrender Lombardy, with its great city of Milan (my home town), to Napoleon III. Finally, in 1859, Napoleon transferred Lombardy to the sovereignty of Victor Emmanuel II.

Following elections during 1859 and 1860, all northern states (of the Italian peninsula), except Venetia, which was still part of Austria, joined the Kingdom of Sardinia. Napoleon’s growing concern with respect to the sudden (large) size of his neighbor was resolved in part by the cessation of the Sardinian provinces of Savoy, near the Alps, and Nice, on the Mediterranean coast to France in 1860 . After 1860, the only French presence on the Italian peninsula was in the city of Rome, where French troops remained at the request of the pope.

In 1848, Garibaldi traveled to the United States settled in Staten Island, New York, and later became a US citizen. During the same year he returned to Italy and participated (again) in the movement for Italian freedom and unification, which became widely known as the Risorgimento (Italian for “revival”). He organized a corps of volunteers, which served under the Piedmontese ruler Charles Albert, king of Sardinia. He unsuccessfully waged war against the Austrians in Lombardy and led his volunteers to Rome to support the Roman Republic established by Mazzini and others in 1849. Garibaldi defended Rome, initially successfully, against French forces, but in the end was forced to “settle” with the French. He was allowed to depart from Rome with about 5000 of his followers. However, the line of retreat reached directly through Austrians controlled territory. Garibaldi’s force was killed, captured, or dispersed during his attempt to retreat, and Garibaldi had to flee Italy to save his life.

He returned to Italy in 1854 where he settled down on the island of Caprera northeast of Sardinia. By this time, Garibaldi had separated politically from Mazzini, and had formed an alliance with Victor Emmanuel II, the king of Sardinia, and his premier, Conte Camillo Benso di Cavour. Given Garibaldi’s popularity and large following, thousands of Italians gave their allegiance to the Sardinian monarch.

Garibaldi’s dream of a united Italy motivated his successful expedition against the Austrian forces in the Alps in 1859. In 1860 he conquered Sicily and set up a provisional insular government. Garibaldi then conquered Naples, which he then delivered to Victor Emmanuel in 1861 and returned to his home on Caprera. With the annexation of Umbria and Marches from the papal government, a united Italy was finally established in 1861 with Victor Emmanuel as its king. The Italian kingdom was missing Rome, which was still a papal possession, and Venice, which was controlled by the Austrians.

Venice was added to Italy in 1866 after Prussia defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War, in which Italy sided with Prussia; Venice was its reward. Then, in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, Napoleon III withdrew his troops from Rome. With the city of Rome and the remaining Papal States left unprotected, Italian troops moved into Rome without opposition. Rome voted for union with Italy in October 1870 and, in July 1871, Rome became the capital of a united Italy.

The following decade coincides with the presence of Count Camillo Benso Cavour in the government of Piedmont and his able and patient pursual of a policy that succeeded in inserting the small State of Savoy within the schemes and alliances of the great European powers, as well as ensuring the friendship of neighbouring France. Results were not slow in arriving. At the Congress of Paris (1856) concluding the Crimean War, fought by the army of Piedmont in a coalition with France and England against Russia and Turkey (in the Battle of the Cernaia the new corps of the Bersaglieri, founded by General La Marmora, dist inguished itself), Cavour managed to raise the Italian question although without obtaining immediate territorial advantages.

These were to come three years later in 1859. Following the speech from the throne at the beginning of the year by Vittorio Emanuele II on the support of Piedmont for Italians with nationalistic aspirations, Austria, having failed in her request for the disarmament of Piedmont, declared war on the Kingdom of Sardinia. This was the occasion for which Cavour had long waited. The intervention of France under Napoleon III with the bloody victories of Solferino and San Martino forced Austria to the armistice of Villafranca and the cession of Lombardy. At the same time all Central Italy and Romagna rebelled, overturning the old regimes.

fFollowing the plebiscite that voted in favour of annexation to Piedmont (1860), there then began the construction, together with the territory of Southern Italy that had been taken by Garibaldi’s expedition of `The Thousand’, of the United Kingdom of Italy. This was to be proclaimed at Turin on 17 March 1861, though the acquisition of Rome and Venice were still outstanding. The latter was added five years later (1866) following an unfortunate conflict with Austria, which was resolved in Italy’s favour thanks to the intervention of Prussia; Rome was conquered by force, 20 September 1870, on the fall of Napoleon III.

With these events the territorial unity of the Italian nation was almost complete and it was now necessary to construct its own social, economic and cultural image.

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