- Revolutions of 1848 in the Italian states
The Italian states in 1848
As with Germany, there was no "
Italy" at the time of the Revolutions of 1848, but a collection of independent states. The most important of these states were the Kingdom of the Two Siciliesin the South, the Papal Statesand Tuscanyin the Center, and the Kingdom of Sardiniaon the island of Sardiniaand in the North West (the bulk of the kingdom actually consisted of what is now the Piedmont region of Italy). Furthermore, the Austrian Empiredirectly ruled the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, which included the rich northern regions around Milanand Venice. Most of the rest of Italy was taken up by the small Duchies of Modena and Parma. All these states were absolute monarchies. Nonetheless, society in Italy was generally friendlier to people of limited means, and, sometimes, to women, than other European states of the time. Even the poor often owned their own tiny pieces of land, and in the north women had slightly higher status than elsewhere, taking part in public affairs.
The Italian peninsula was more agricultural than most of Europe, apart from Russia, which did not experience revolution in 1848. Farm products were subject to wild price uncertainty due to foreign competition, and the slowness of Italian farming contrasted to more-efficient foreigners. There were food
riots all through the 1840s to 1847; radical groups proliferated in Rome.
Politically, some wealthy and educated Italians wished for liberal government and the removal of Austrian rule from the North East. However, this was controversial among those groups of people, with moderates and radical positions both contributing to the debate. Even if both the moderates and the radicals agreed about the expulsion of Austria, the moderates were hoping to form a confederation of kingdoms with a liberal constitution (for example, the cleric
Vincenzo Giobertiadvocated a confederation headed by the Pope), while the radicals were calling for a revolution followed by the formation of a unified Italian republic; their leader was Giuseppe Mazzini. In the 1830s he organized the " La Giovine Italia", an organization which supported several failed insurrections in various parts of Italy.
Some reform, surprisingly, came from the
Papal States. Upon his accession to the papacy in 1846, Pius IXwas considered a relative liberal, giving political amnesties and other reforms such as a relaxation of the control on the press. For moderates, this sounded as if Gioberti's project was starting to become reality, and the radicals followed their hopes; both groups put a lot of pressure on the various governments. In the 1847-1848 winter kings started conceding moderate constitutions in order to prevent insurrections. By March 1848 (when the last and most important of these constitutions - the Statuto Albertino- had emerged in Piedmont) all the Italian states (with the exception of the Austrian-ruled Lombardo-Veneto) had formally become parliamentary monarchies.
The Austrian rule in the Lombardo-Veneto
The Lombardo-Veneto region was restless and probably the least corrupt part of Italy, Lombardy's verdant land supported the most concentrated population in Europe, and by 1847 conditions seemed ripe for revolt. Things were made worse when, because of a border dispute, Austria took the town of
Ferrarain the Papal Statesin July 1847, but later backed out because of the protests from Pope Pius IX.
The Revolutions' beginning
Milanplanned to quit using tobaccoor play lotteryas 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 when the news of the insurrection of Vienna came, they expelled the Austrian forces from Milan (March 18- March 22, 1848). This is commonly known as the " Five Days of Milan." At approximately the same time similar insurrections took place in numerous towns and cities, and most importantly in Venice, where an independent republic was recreated. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Milanese insurrections, both for consolidating the revolution and for fear that the radicals could stage a social revolution, pledged allegiance to Charles Albert of Savoy, King of Sardinia, and invited him to join his forces with theirs.
The 1848 war with Austria
After some delays and stalling, on
24 Marchthe Piedmont army crossed into Lombardy, while the Austrian commander, Field Marshal Radetzky decided to retreat into the "Quadrilatero", a group of four fortresses ( Peschiera, Mantova, Legnanoand Verona) halfway between Milan and Venice.
After Charles Albert's move, the Pope, the grand-duke of Tuscany and the king of the Two Sicilies were pressed by people in their respective countries to send troops for the war against Austria.
However, Charles Albert made the mistake of waiting for
plebiscites proclaiming the annexation of various cities to Piedmont, rather than pursuing a fast and decisive victory on the Austrians. Meanwhile, the pressure on the Pope seemed to ease, and Pius IX changed his mind, stating that he could not endorse the war of a Catholic country (Italy) against another (Austria). For this reason, at the beginning of May he pulled his troops out, and was soon followed by the other Italian rulers.
The war narrowed to Piedmont versus Austria. In spite of the enthusiastic help from various revolutionaries (such as those in Venice and the voluntaries led by
Giuseppe Mazzini), military fortunes reversed, and the Austrians started gaining ground. However, with Vienna a mess and Hungary in rebellion, the Austrian government ordered 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 were finally routed at the Battle of Custoza at the end of July, and fell back to Milan. The Austrians granted the right of civilians to leave, and Milan lost half its population. Charles Albert decided to abandon the city (which fell on
August 7) and signed an armistice with Radetzky, who, given the pressing situation on other fronts, agreed to a return to the old border on the Ticino river.
In 1849 Piedmont alone launched another campaign against Austria, which rapidly ended with a defeat at the Battle of Novara on
March 23, 1849. Once again, Austria had to refrain from asking territorial concessions, but Charles Albert was forced to abdicatein favor of his son Victor Emmanuel IIand go into exile. However, the constitution he conceded was not abrogated, and in the following decade Piedmont was the only Italian state with a parliamentary regime.
The Roman and Venetian republics
Even though the war between Austria and Piedmont stopped in August, the situation remained uncertain: Venice was holding ground against Austria, Sicily was fighting against King
Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, and there were new insurrections in cities such as Bologna.
The most important of these new insurrections was in Rome, where on
November 15, 1848 Pellegrino Rossi, Prime Ministerof the Papal States, was assassinated.
While a crime wave was avoided, no one took charge.
Pope Pius IXfled to the fortress of Gaeta, under the protection of King Ferdinand II. In February 1849, he was joined by Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscanywho had to flee from there because of another insurrection.
In Rome, the authority that did take over passed popular legislation to eliminate burdensome taxes and give work to the unemployed.
Giuseppe Garibaldiand Giuseppe Mazzinicame to build a "Rome of the People," and the "Roman Republic" was proclaimed. Even if he had failed in 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 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.
inflationmight have doomed the Republic, and sending troops to defend the Piedmont from Austrian forces put Rome at risk of attack from Austria. But the Roman Republic would fall to another, unexpected enemy. In France, President Louis Napoleon(who would later become emperor Napoleon III) needed the endorsement of the Catholics, and decided to send troops to restore the Pope.
The French arrived
April 20, 1849but 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 moderates, they were considered liberals all the same, and the Pope did not return until 1850 when assured of no French meddling in his affairs.
Garibaldi escaped to the United States, only to return in the 1850s to help complete
Italian unificationunder the lead of Piedmont. Mazzini fled to England; his days as a revolutionary were over.
When Rome fell, only
Veniceremained. The Austrians had blockaded the city during the winter of 1848- 1849. 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.
It is debatable whether
Charles Albert of Savoyacted out of true Italian nationalism, or simply Piedmonteseexpansionism. What became clear, however, was that to achieve unification, Italy needed international help against the Austrians. She could not, as Charles Albert had argued, "go it alone".
The end of the Revolutions in Italy
In the territories which were re-conquered by Austria, many were publicly flogged, and over 900 were executed for owning firearms. Wealthy revolutionaries could pay large fines or lose their property. Similar repressions took place in most parts of Italy where the kings had been overthrown.
While Italy did moderate, independence from the royalty was dead -- for about a decade. The moderate regime in the
Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardiniamanaged better concessions against the Austrians than would be expected, but the Revolutions in Italy had sputtered to a seeming close. The "Risorgimento," the Italian nationalist movement, however, would triumph within twenty years.
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