Unification of ITALY

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The Unification of Italy

Although it had ruled the Mediterranean region and much of Western Europe in the days of ancient Rome, Italy had not existed as a unified nation-state since the sixth century. In modern Europe, Italy was a geographical term that signified the Italian peninsula, and the word Italian referred to the people who lived there and spoke that language. The people of the numerous Italian states were regionally divided to some degree; the fertile north had evolved into a prosperous industrial society, while the wine-producing south was largely poor and rural. However, the people were culturally homogeneous, sharing a common language, a common history, and a common religion. Italy was thus a natural breeding ground for nationalism and unification.

The Congress of Vienna had divided Italy among the victors of the Napoleonic Wars as follows:

Italian State Ruled By Papal States Pope Naples and Sicily Bourbon monarch Lombardy, Venice, Tyrol Austria-Hungary Parma, Modena, other states Hapsburg monarchs

Nationalist forces in Italy rebelled against their foreign rulers. This happened in Parma and Modena in 1831, where the uprisings were crushed, and again in 1848 with the same result. Republican forces fomented a revolt against the pope, declaring the Republic of Rome in 1848. Since France and Austria were united in the desire to maintain a divided and weak Italy, they worked together to put down the rebellions. French troops occupied Rome until 1870.

In 1852, Count Camillo di Cavour become prime minister of Sardinia, a kingdom that included both the island of Sardinia and the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Like almost all successful ministers in European history, Cavour was crafty, clever, and entirely practical in his outlook. He used national alliances to achieve his goal of uniting the rest of Italy to Sardinia.

At Cavour’s urging, Sardinia fought on the side of the British and French in the Crimean War. Having thus formed a friendship with France, Cavour joined Napoleon III in an attack on Austria. As a result, Lombardy and Sardinia were united in 1859. Later that year, most of the rest of northern Italy joined the union of Italian states.

In 1860, the fiery republican Giuseppe Garibaldi led an invasion of his followers, the Red Shirts, into the kingdom of Sicily, ostensibly to join a popular uprising. With covert assistance from Cavour, Garibaldi liberated both Sicily and Naples. Although Cavour was a monarchist and Garibaldi was a republican, they found common ground in their desire to unify their people.

Garibaldi believed that the natural next step was to march into Rome, but Cavour felt it was better to hold off rather than make an enemy of the pope. Therefore, he sent Sardinian troops to maintain peace in the Papal States. Next, with Garibaldi’s full support, he held an election throughout the states of southern Italy to decide whether the people were ready to join the northern states and Sardinia as a unified nation. The nation was officially united in 1861; the king of Sardinia was…

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