This period prior to the war with Austria is Cavour’s.
Continuing Final Italian Unification,
our selection from A Short History of Italy by Henry Dwight Sedgwick published in 1905. The selection is presented in 3.5 installments, each one 5 minutes long, the first one half of that..
Previously in Final Italian Unification.
In Piedmont alone was there light ahead. The young king was the embodiment of the best qualities of his race. The statues of him, carved in the first fury of patriotism, which disfigure many a piazza, reveal only his corpulence, his monstrous mustachios, and the forceful ugliness of his shrewd face. Victor Emmanuel was a soldier born, of careless manners, imperious and brusque, yet with a charm of obvious honesty that won men’s hearts and gained for him the title of il re galantuomo. He reminds one of Henry of Navarre, in his dash, his impetuous energy, his shrewdness, his deserved popularity, and his eternally youthful readiness to fall in love. After the defeat at Novara (1849) pressure was put upon him to return to the autocratic system, and, it is said, Austria offered him easier terms if he would. He had been brought up with the old ideas of the royal position, but he was statesman enough to perceive that if Piedmont and the House of Savoy were to lead in the movement of Italian independence, they must win the confidence of the liberals; and he had sworn to maintain the [constitution. He was always a man of his word, whatever policy might advise, and answered that he should be loyal to the constitution.
Piedmont’s history for the next few years is a record of liberal legislation, as it was then understood. This legislation was especially directed against antiquated ecclesiastical privileges, with the purpose of realizing Cavour’s principle, “A free Church in a free State.” A little later Cavour was called to the head of the government, and for ten years, with certain brief exceptions, he remained the chief figure on the Italian stage. There are diverse judgments on the very diverse merits of the master-builders of the Italian kingdom; some admire most Mazzini, the indefatigable conspirator, the dreamy idealist, the nobly fanatical republican; others, Garibaldi, the man after Petrarch’s heart, the rival of Roland or the Cid; others, Victor Emmanuel, the honorable, bold, shrewd, resolute king; but all agree that Cavour’s brilliant diplomacy entitles him to rank as one of the world’s great statesmen, and that his work was indispensable to the establishment of the Italian kingdom.
This period prior to the war with Austria is Cavour’s. He set the finances of Piedmont on a better basis; he began a series of measures for the development of her resources; he secured various internal reforms, but his brilliant achievement was in his foreign policy. He knew that the Austrians could not be dispossessed without a war, that Piedmont was not strong enough of herself, and that in order to gain allies she must get a hearing before [Pg 399]Europe. The Crimean War gave Cavour an opportunity. England and France would have preferred Austria as an ally, and there was much cautious proceeding; but Austria hesitated, and Piedmont offered herself. Many Italians deemed the plan of taking part in a war with which Piedmont had no visible concern a piece of folly; but Cavour carried his point. The Piedmontese army went, behaved with credit, and effaced the unfavourable impression left by the disastrous campaigns of 1848-49. The fruits of the Crimean expedition were gathered at the Congress of Paris (1856), where Cavour, supported by England and France, was able to call the attention of the Congress to the condition of Italy. He pointed to the tyranny of Austria in Lombardy and Venetia, to the abominable condition of the Papal States, to the horrible misgovernment in the Two Sicilies; and he pointed to Piedmont as the bulwark against Austrian preponderance on the one hand, and against the revolutionary spirit on the other. Nothing definite was done, but the Italian question had been broached, and Cavour’s participation in the Congress was recognized as a great achievement.
Piedmont’s leadership was helped by rash revolts elsewhere, easily put down and cruelly punished; and it became plainer and plainer that through the steady, orderly monarchy of Sardinia deliverance was to come, if at all, and not through the visionary schemes of Mazzini. The dark, mysterious plans of Napoleon III now loomed on the horizon. Relations between him and Cavour became closer. Cavour, no doubt, [would have liked to gain his ends without French aid, but that could not be done. The only other possible ally, England, would not interfere. In the summer of 1858 an understanding was reached between him and Napoleon that in case of Austrian aggression France would aid Piedmont. On January 1, 1859, Napoleon hinted to the world what had happened; on January 10, Victor Emmanuel at the opening of the Piedmontese parliament said that the political situation was not free from perils ahead, “for while we respect treaties, we cannot disregard the cry of pain which comes to us from so many parts of Italy.” Count Cavour asked for a loan of 50,000,000 lire. Affairs moved fast. Relations between Piedmont and Austria were strained taut; but it was essential that Austria should be the aggressor. Russia and England, in order to prevent war, suggested a European Congress to consider matters. Napoleon consented; and Cavour, who knew that freedom for Italy could only be obtained by war, feared that his chance had gone. There was talk of disarmament, but no agreement had been reached, when Austria, impatient and arrogant, sent an ultimatum to Piedmont that she must disarm prior to the Congress. Victor Emmanuel refused and war was declared.
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