Issue of land ownership was the issue of the day, in The Italian Risorgimento (1998), Martin Clark asserts that, throughout the nineteenth centruy, 'the real political issue was not constitutional liberty, nor independence, nor unification, but land'. Land had become the main form of investment due to how weak investment into industry had become in this period.
There was a significant difference in the patterns of land cultivation between the north and south.
- In the south the soil was inferior in quality and the region was crippled with malaria, most land was owned by absentee landlords and rented out by peasant farmers under a system known as latifundia.
- Throughout Italy, but mainly in the south, majority of those who were landless had to work as labourers, but suffered from chronic underemployment.
- The period of Napoleonic rule abolished the sale of Church land and feudal laws, which encouraged land speculation however this did not broaden the range of people who owned land.
- Piedmont had more of a tradition of peasant landownership than elsewhere on the peninsula, in the middle of the century there were around 80,000 estates in Piedmont yet it should've been stressed these were small.
Changes to land ownership and how the land was exploited made matters worse for the landless throughout the nineteenth century. Many depended on common land for fuel and food. However in the 1830s the local council sold this land, it was enclosed and all common rights were lost. This land was sold to those close to the local prefects, councillors and mayors. Once under ownership, the land was expoloited.
In the 1840s there was an increasing demand for wood especially from the railway and the shipbuilding industries; this led to widespread deforestation. As a result, landslides and the erosion of topsoil led to the creation of swamps, which made the malaria worse. The peasants in the south were in a constant state of unrest.
Italy cannot be described as being industrialised by 1860, however in some regions there were signs of industrial development but the base of this development was narrow, mainly in the textile and light…