Today’s installment concludes The Second War of Italian Independence,
our selection from Modern Italy 1748-1898 by Pietro Orsi.
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Previously in The Second War of Italian Independence.
Place: Northern Italy
What was the motive that had induced Napoleon to break his lately made promise of freeing Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic? There were many reasons which influenced him: the sight of that immense battlefield, strewn with the bodies of the slain, the determined resistance of the Austrian soldiers, the difficulties which would have to be faced in the Quadrilateral, the hostile attitude of Prussia, were all motives which combined to sway the French Emperor’s mind. But there was also another reason which counted for much. Napoleon had been drawn into this campaign without really knowing the state of Italian public opinion; he wished Italy to be free “from the Alps to the Adriatic,” but did not want Italian unity; rather did he desire the formation of a confederacy wherein France could always make her own predominance felt in the peninsula. Scarcely had he arrived in Italy when he was forced to see that Italian ideals were very different from what he had imagined them to be. Trials had but ripened the virtues of prudence and wisdom in men’s minds: in 1859 the people were little likely to repeat the blunders of 1848 or 1849, and there were now no longer discussions over forms of government, but everywhere a unanimous resolve to rally round the liberal monarchy of Savoy.
On the first proclamation of the war the Grand Duke of Tuscany had been compelled to fly from his States (April 27th). Napoleon had imagined that in this Province–the ancient stronghold of Italian municipalism — it would be easy to form a new kingdom with a Bonaparte to wear its crown. With this aim in view the fifth French army corps, commanded by Prince Jerome Napoleon, had debarked at Leghorn, under the pretext of organizing the military forces of Central Italy and harassing the Austrians on the extreme left. But the Tuscans soon divined the real intention of the French, and the Provisional Government in Florence, previously instituted under Bettino Ricasoli, suddenly avowed its intention of uniting Tuscany to Sardinia, whereupon Prince Napoleon, seeing the true attitude of the country, found it advisable to affect to promote the annexation.
The duchies of Parma and Modena had also been deserted by their dukes, and the papal legates had to quit Romagna, whose inhabitants now suddenly announced their fusion with Sardinia. Indeed this impulse for annexation now began to spread, and to the cry of “Victor Emmanuel” the Marches and Umbria revolted against the Pontiff, but in these regions the movement was sanguinarily suppressed by the Swiss troops.
Napoleon III was displeased to note how all Italian aspirations tended to unity, and thus it was that he had signed the Treaty of Villafranca. Peace was concluded at Zurich in the November following, and there the idea of an Italian confederation was mooted afresh.
The fugitive princes ought to have returned to their States, but how was it possible? They certainly could not hope to be recalled by their subjects, for the latter had expelled them; occupying their kingdoms with troops of their own was out of the question, because they had none; foreign aid, moreover, was not to be looked for, since Napoleon III had established the principle of non-intervention. Then the people of Central Italy showed themselves capable of a bold political coup: under the leadership of Bettino Ricasoli, dictator in Tuscany, and Luigi Carlo Farini–who held a similar office in Emilia and Romagna–they declared, by means of their assembled Deputies, their earnest desire to be incorporated with Sardinia.
The new Ministry formed at Turin, after Cavour’s resignation, had pursued its way timidly, fearing to rouse the suspicion and displeasure of the European Powers, but at this momentous and difficult juncture Cavour again accepted the premiership (January 20, 1860). He immediately gave a bolder impetus to King Victor Emmanuel’s policy by sending a note to all the Powers, in which he asserted it to be now impossible for Sardinia to offer any resistance to the inevitable course of events. Cavour imagined that since Napoleon III had obtained the imperial throne by a plebiscite, he would not deny the validity of such a claim in Italy, and forthwith submitted this idea to the Emperor, who was bound to approve of it. But the French nation was discontented, imagining that the blood it had shed for Italy had profited nothing, and was, moreover, very averse to the formation of a powerful kingdom beyond the Alps.
Now it was that Cavour determined on a great sacrifice. In the convention of Plombiares it had been agreed that, in the event of a kingdom of eleven million inhabitants being established from the Alps to the Adriatic, Sardinia would cede Savoy to France. As, however, by the Treaty of Villafranca, Venetia had remained under the Austrian yoke, no more had been said about cession of territory, but by the annexation of Central Italy the number of Victor Emmanuel’s subjects was now augmented to eleven millions. In order to induce Napoleon III to approve of such an annexation Cavour offered him Savoy, but the Emperor claimed Nice as well, and the Minister was obliged to accede to his demands. On March 24, 1860, Savoy, the cradle of the reigning dynasty, and Nice, Garibaldi’s native Province, were ceded to France. Garibaldi, deeply wounded in his tenderest feelings, violently abused Cavour in Parliament, but the Chamber, although it respected the hero’s emotion, ratified the treaty which was at this crisis a necessary concession.
At the same time Parma, Modena, Romagna, and Tuscany expressed by universal suffrage their cordial desire for union with Sardinia, and a few days later the fusion of these provinces with the dominions of the house of Savoy was an accomplished fact. On April 2, 1860, at the opening of the new Parliament, Victor Emmanuel could thus sum up the results already obtained by the nationalist party: “In a very short space of time an invasion repulsed, Lombardy liberated by valiant feats of arms, Central Italy freed by her people’s wonderful strength, and to-day, assembled around me here, the representatives of the rights and hopes of the nation.”
This ends our series of passages on The Second War of Italian Independence by Pietro Orsi from his book Modern Italy 1748-1898 published in . This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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