Liberal Italy

Risorgimento 1870

the political and social movement which unified all the smaller states of Italy into a united Italy 

The word risorgimento= rebirth or resurgence 

before the unification areas of the south (Calabria and Basilcata) were particulalry poor, Sicily poverty striken - major industrial area from 1880's in Turin 

1861 the Kingdom of Italy was established as an constitutional monarchy 

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lack of italian identity

2% of the population spoke Italian and many different dialects 

the liberal government believed that in order for Italy to truly become a great power and be united then they must be viewed to the public as Italian 

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Foreign Policy

Battle of Adowa - 1896 - FAILED

was in North Central Ethipia/ Italian forces versus ethipian army- the ethipian victory delayed Italy's attempt to build a empire in Africa

Crispi was forced to resign following the fail of the Battle of Adowa and peace was made with Ethipia 

Libya War September 1911- SUCCESS 

Italy invaded Libya in North Africa/ Giolitti hoped to overcome this outpose of the Turkish empire quickly and establish a colony there> 1911 France were consolidating contorl over Morocco and Algeria and Italy feared it might turn its attention to Libya 

Public opinion demanded intervention (especially the nationalists)

major Libyan towns were taken and ports- 

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Liberal government 1896-1915

- Crispi forced to resign following the failure of the Battle of Adowa in 1896 and peace was made with Ethipia 

- poor harvest of 1897 combined with high taxes on imported wheat, pushed the prices of food up (INFLATION) - street demonstrations against highg prices and shortaged begain in the South in early 1898 and by April spread to most parts of the country 

- The army was brought to suppress riots- killed 200 people in the process- martial law was declared in four provinces

- press was heavily censored 

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Political system

Trasformismo- different political factions form a coalition government regardless of ideolgicaly differences 

politicans were from wealthy middle class background and represented narrow social class in parliament 

Libyan war crushed Giolitti's hopes for trasformismo- liberals and moderate socialist alliance collapsed. (The socialists condemned the war and the revolutionary fascists (Mussolini) called for the abolition of private property and encouraged violent strikes the overthrow the state. 

Socialist's condemned Giolitti's refusal to suppress strikes and saw this as a weakness (it encouraged socialists extremism)

Giolitti believed that trasformismo would bring all men together in order to protect the state,however it proved to be fragiile 

Italy had 29 MP's between 1870-1922- 

No two party system

no political parties 

no universal suffrage >> male suffrage MAY 1912 

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Economic weakness

underdevloped industry- heavy industry lacked the natural resources (especially iron ore and coal)- small development in iron and steel and shipbuilding but limited for military purposes and railways (concentrated in the NORTH) 

economic weakness- gov recieved little in taxes making it difficult to finance big projects such as expansion of public schools or building up Italy's armed forces 

1890- country in a depression as a result of foreign competition and trade disputes with France (Italy's main export) 

political corruption- Crispi recieved 55,000 lire and his political opponent Giolitti borrowed 60,00 lire

Economic depression, national humiliation and political corruption encouraged the growth of opposition movements that would challenge the liberal monopoly of power- e.g. SOCIALIST/NATIONALISTS/CATHOLICS 

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convinced that liberals had made a mistake for ignoring the troubles and concerns of the ordinary Italians.

suggested the government should demonstrate a sympathy to the demands of labour (to no longer be seen as the enemy to the worker and the rural poor)

believed the Liberal gov. should help the poor (social reforms)

tried to win support by working with moderate socialists and catholics and by increasing the numbers of itlalians eligibile to vote.

Giolotti- PM of the interior in 1901-03 - PM for all in 1903-1921


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Social reform under Giolitti

responsible for passing laws forcing employers to grant one rest day a week - outlawed employment of children under the age of twelve - government expenditure increased + doubled from 1904-1907-went to improving roads, farming and quality for drinking water in the south- tax on food (affected the poor) was reduced

the state should remain neutral in the event of strikes and disputes between employers and employees in order to rally support from the workers for the liberal state (1904 left wing union strikes, gov remained neutral and didnt crush the strikes)

won support of many moderate socialists - socialist MP’s were prepared to support Giolottis gov and became apartof his coalition.

moderate catholics- attempted to work with the ones who feared the influence of socialism- favoured limited socialist reform ( the catholics dropped a law permitting divorce and began to cast their votes in favour of the liberals)

Liberals- wiliing to stand for catholic interests such as church schools (1911 catholics were part of governing coalitions in big cities such as Bologna, Venice, Turn and Florence )

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Industrialisation in northern italy from 1880’s  produced a working class who were attracted to socialist ideas concerning pay, working conditions and ownership of industry

Turati- middle class lawyer attempted to create a single united socialist party

Socialism emergence in Italy had provoked great fears - some pronounced in the catholic church

The movement was divided at Genoa- dedicated to revolutionary actions, refused to participate in election, committed to workers control of the state - PSI formed- 1895

> Italian foreign policies: the Triple Alliances; colonial ambitions in Abyssinia and Libya; Italus decision to enter the way in 1915

Liberal reform of 1881 allowed conditions and the ownership of industry .- attempted to create a single united Socialist party made by Turati - in 1991 he organised the italian workers congress.


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1890’s the Papacy had turned its attention to the rise of socialism.

It believed socialism challenged the traditional social order and even rejected religion.

The church removed its ban on voting in elections - by 1909 catholics could put themselves up for elections. However the pope remained opposed to the formation of cathoic polticial pargty as he believed it might rival his authority, but now that Catholicism was becoming active in the political system, it meant that they were presented as more of a direct challenge to the Liberal regime which would rival their position.

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Italian Nationalist Assosication (group of young politicans, business en, journalists and radical poets) who condemned liberal regime. They demanded higher defence spending and colonial exansion - italy must be made a great power and in order to achieve this some form of authoritarain state must be nexessary. The nationalist secured few votes but had influence over conservative groups such as the landowners and industrialists.

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Result of the 1913 general election

Results of the 1913 general election

511 seats in the chamber altoegther

Liberal factions = 318 seats (70 votes from left wing anticlerical liberals, the radicals) - however the liberla majority had been obtained by securing an electoral deal with the catholics - the leader agreed with Giolotti that liberal candidates who promised to oppose divorce and favour religious orders and curch schools would receive catholic votes. - 228 liberal candidates signed a declaration that would support Catholic interests

Socialists = 78 seats

Nationalists= 3 seats


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Positive POV of liberal regime

Positive POV

liberals argued that the country was moving into a strong and stable democracy 

national military services + introduction of free primary education helped create a grater sense of italian nationhood 

rapid economic progress- rise in national income from 61 billion lire in 1895 to 92 billion lire in 1915 - tax on food reduced, liberal spent money on improving roads, railways and suppling drinking water 


italy joined triple alliance (with Germany and Austrial Hungary) signed in 1882 - created an empire in East Africa 

According ot liberals, italy had a stable political system- 1912 universal male suffrage- Giolitti PM from 1903-1914 , managed to co-opt moderate socialists and moderate catholics into his governing coalition 

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Socialist criticism of liberal italy

- condemned the regime as a cover for capitalist exploitation of Italian working class

wages were still low, long working hours compared to the rest of western europe, unfavourably welfare benefits (such as sickness, pension repayments) 

- wealth of the country used on conquest in Eastern Africa and Libya

- severe poverty still widespread

5 million Italians chose to emigrate to the USA and South AMerica 1871-1915, confirmed tht liberalism failed to solve the problem of poverty 

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Nationalists criticisms of Liberal Regime

- the regime lacked the will to make Italy a major force in the European scene 

liberal incompetence led to a humiliating dfeat at the Battle of Adowa at the hands of the Ethipians in 1896 

vast emigration was viewed a disgrace- the men and women who emigrated should have been employed to build up Italy's economy and fill the ranks of the army 

The state had not crushed socialist threat 

they failed to instill a national spirit- politicals lacked all principle and were concerned about their private concerns 

Giolitti had allied with the socialists and catholics - employed corrupted tactics to win elections, using government officials to bribe or intimidate voters. 

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Catholic criticisms of Liberal Italy

- they were divided over liberalisms 

many foudn it difficult to support regime which in 1870 had disregarded the Pope's territorial rights in Rome (the Papal states) - many believed the liberals had negeected the problems of the poor catholic peasantry (espec. in the South) - government in Giolitti's era granted monies to southern provinces to improve irrigation and supply drinking water, sums were inadequate

(in sicily 0.01% of the population owned 50% of land , leaving a mass of landless peasants) 

late 1890's - 20,000 italians emigrating overseas each year

- catholic groups looked towards further social reform as a means of alleviating continuing poverty > formed part of the Populari (established after WW1 in 1919 and were determined not to be absorbed into the liberal system) 

- not all catholics opposed the liberal regime

conservative catholics saw the regime as indefintley preferable to socialism

liberals feared a catholic political party in the hands of radical reformers would be less willing to defend their property interests 

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