• Italian unification was the political and social movement that agglomerated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of Italy in the 19th century.
  • Despite a lack of consensus on the exact dates for the beginning and end of this period, many scholars agree that the process began in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna and the end of Napoleonic rule, and ended in 1870 with the Capture of Rome. 
  • Italy at mid-century was split into several parts. In the north, Austria had Lombardy and Venetia.
  • To the west was the rival Kingdom of Sardinia- Piedmont, consisting of the mainland territories of Piedmont, Nice, and Savoy, plus the island of Sardinia.
  • The Kingdom was ruled by King Victor Emmanuel II from the Savoy dynasty. He was the only ruler from a native Italian family. South of Lombardy was the duchies of Parma, Modena, and Tuscany. 
  • In the middle of Italy, along both coasts, were the Papal States ruled by the Pope. South of Papal States was the Kingdom of the Two Sicily’s, consisting of Sicily and the mainland section forming the bottom half of the Italian boot.


  • The groundwork for Italian unification was laid by a literary and political movement known as Risorgimento, or resurgence, which sought the resurrection of the Italian nation.
  • A key figure in this movement was Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), who began as a member of a secret revolutionary society, the Carbonari. Mazzini founded a new movement, Young Italy, which sought to create a unified Italian republic through a series of popular referendums. 
  • He encouraged national revolutions among other groups, such as the Irish and the Poles, and was a leader in the short-lived Roman Republic of 1849. 
  • Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was a disciple of Mazzini and a very able military leader.
  • After participating with Mazzini in an abortive republican uprising against the King of Sardinia in 1834, Garibaldi gained fame for military exploits in South America.
  • He returned to Italy in 1848 and fought first against the Austrians and then against the French.
  • He put up a gallant but hopeless struggle to maintain the Roman Republic of 1849.
  • The most successful leader of the Risorgimento movement was Camillo di Cavour (1810-1861).
  • He was from a prominent Piedmontese family and a successful entrepreneur. In 1847, Cavour founded a liberal newspaper, Il Risorgimento. While Cavour favored constitutionalism and opposition to Austria, unlike Mazzini and Garibaldi he was not a republican.
  • He favored the achievement of Italian unity under the royal house of Savoy. In 1852, he became prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. 
  • The failure of the revolutions of 1848 and 1849 tended to discredit the schemes of Mazzini and Garibaldi and gave Cavour the opportunity to take the lead in seeking Italian unification. Strategy:
  • Cavour began by strengthening the Sardinian economy. He patronized the construction of highways, canals, docks, and railroads. He concluded trade treaties to increase commerce, reformed the credit system, and sought to limit the influence of the church.
  • These efforts were calculated to make Sardinia a model state that its Italian neighbors would want to join. 
  • Cavour realized that he would need the help of a major power to fight Austria, whose Italian possessions constituted the biggest obstacle to Italian unification.
  • He had Sardinia join the side of Britain, France, and Turkey against Russia in the Crimean War (1853-56).
  • The war did not involve any issues of national interest for Sardinia, but attendance at the peace conference following the war gave Cavour an opportunity to call big power attention to the issue of Italian unity. 

French Connection

  • Cavour determined that Sardinia would form an alliance with France against Austria.
  • He saw the use of French troops as the best hope of pushing Austria out of the Italian peninsula. 
  • He succeeded in negotiating with Emperor Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon) the Pact of Plombièrs in July 1858. France agreed to join Sardinia in a war against Austria, providing the blame for starting the war could be put on Austria. 
  • If the war were won, Sardinia would get the Austrian possessions of Lombardy and Venetia.
  • In turn, France would get Nice and Savoy from Sardinia. Italy would be reorganized as a confederation, with the Pope as President. 
  • Louis Napoleon consented to such an agreement, not only to get Nice and Savoy which were on the French side of the Alps and long coveted by France, but for other reasons as well. 
  • The Bonaparte family was of Italian (Corsican) origin, and Louis Napoleon had been linked as a young man to the Italian unification movement.
  • In attacking reactionary Austria, he could endear himself to French liberals at home.
  • He may also have been persuaded by the Italian nationalist, Felice Orsini 18191858), who threw a bomb at Napoleon in January of 1858 for his failure to do more for the cause of Italian unity. 
  • By encouraging revolutionaries and deserters in Austria’s Italian territories and rejecting a related Austrian ultimatum, Cavour provoked Austria into an attack on Sardinia on April 29, 1859.
  • This was the excuse France needed to join Sardinia in a war against Austria. Major battles were fought at Magenta (June 4, 1859) and Solferino (June 24, 1859).
  • While both battles brought Austrian retreats, they were bloodier and less decisive than Napoleon III would have liked.
  • Moreover, revolts in the central Italian states by people wanting to join Sardinia meant that Sardinia might actually grow to be a rival of France.
  • Most menacing for France, Prussia and other German states were threatening to come to the aid of Austria. 
  • These factors led Napoleon III, without consulting his Sardinian allies, to sign an agreement with the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph (1848-1916), at Villa Franca in July.
  • The agreement gave most of Lombardy to France, who could then cede it to Sardinia. Austria kept Venetia, and the states of central Italy were restored to their former rulers.
  • The failure to obtain Venetia as agreed at Plombièrs so angered Cavour that he resigned as premier (he returned to office in January 1860). Sardinia did get Lombardy from France.
  • The French did not dare to claim Nice and Savoy. The central Italian states of Romagna (which had been part of the Papal States), Parma, Modena, and Tuscany resisted restoration of their rulers and voted to join Sardinia.
  • Napoleon and the returned Cavour negotiated an agreement whereby France acquiesced in the annexation of these states by Sardinia in return for finally receiving Nice and Savoy. 

Role of Garibaldi 

  • The next episode in the story of Italian unification is truly extraordinary. Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought the Austrians and French in 1848-1849, had returned to fight the Austrians in the war of 1859.
  • Learning of the proposed giveaway of Nice (his birthplace) and Savoy to France, Garibaldi organized an army to protect these territories from the French. 
  • Cavour, fearing the consequences of antagonizing the French, diverted Garibaldi by finding him another mission.
  • A revolt had broken out against Francis II (1859-1861), the King of the Two Sicilies. Cavour secretly persuaded Garibaldi to use his volunteers to support this revolt. Publicly, Cavour distanced himself from the scheme. Garibaldi’s army of a thousand Red Shirts landed at Marsala in Sicily on May 11, 1860.
  • Enjoying rapid success, Garibaldi captured Palermo, the capital of Sicily by the end of May.
  • In late August, he crossed over to the mainland. Naples, the mainland capital, fell on September 7, 1860.
  • Thousands had deserted from the royal Sicilian army to join Garibaldi. His attractive personality brought many other volunteers.
  • Cavour became concerned about Garibaldi’s successes. He feared that Garibaldi might become a rival to the Sardinian King, Victor Emmanuel II, or provoke intervention by either the French or Austrians. 
  • He hastily had a Sardinian army attack the Papal States, defeating the Pope’s forces. This Sardinian army joined Garibaldi for the final sweep against the Bourbon King of the Two Sicily’s. Garibaldi nobly honored his previous pledge to support the Sardinian monarch. 
  • On March 17, 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, with Victor Emmanuel II as King. Cavour was not to serve the new country long. He died on June 6, 1861.

Completing the kingdom of Italy

  • The only significant parts of the Italian peninsula not initially included in the new kingdom were Venetia, which was under the control of the Austrians, and Rome, which was under the Pope, who was still backed by French troops.
  • In 1866, Italy joined Prussia in a war against Austria. When the Prussians won, Italy’s reward was Venetia. When, in 1870, French against Prussia; Italian forces seized Rome, which became the capital of the kingdom.
  • Italian unity had at last been obtained- more by diplomacy and astute timing than military greatness.
  • The Kingdom of Italy was a state founded in 1861 when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy. 
  • The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state. 
  • It existed until 1946 when the Italians opted for a republican constitution.

Liberal era of politics (1870–1914):

  • After unification, Italy’s politics favored liberalism: the Liberal-conservative right was regionally fragmented, and Liberal-conservative Prime Minister Marco Minghetti only held on to power by enacting revolutionary and left-leaning policies (such as the nationalization of railways) to appease the opposition.
  • After Unification, as Northern Italy was industrialized and modernized, the south became overcrowded, forcing millions of people to emigrate for a better life abroad. 

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