The Unification of Italy

During the nineteenth century, what we today know as Italy was a medley of states, governed by separate peoples. There was Naples, the largest, Tuscany, the Papal States, and Piedmont among others. Austria occupied Venetia, Venice and Lombardy. The attempt to unify Italy in the early eighteenth century by Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi had failed and resulted in the exile of both of these nationalist personages. The latter was to become the greatest general Italy had ever seen and a highly respected figure.

A key figure in the successful unification of Italy was Count Camillo di Cavour, the prime minister of Piedmont (1850’s). He loved the classical liberal philosophy and leaned towards civil liberty. Cavour wanted an Italian unification, but under Piedmont rule.

In his efforts to unify northern Italy, Cavour was supported by Napoleon III, the French emperor (see Revolutions of 1848). Napoleon agreed to help in battle only if Austria would strike the first blow. He wanted this so that he could come help Piedmont under the pretense of ‘defending a friend.’ When Cavour failed to provoke Austria, Napoleon almost backed out. However, just a little later, Austria decided to attack and was defeated.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, seeing that the North was unified, came out of exile and led 1,000 troops into the southern states. He successfully united them and retreated back into exile, a highly respected man.

However, the South did not want to join the North. Finally though, in 1866 Venetia (the only state Austria had retained) joined the North and in 1871 the Papal States, except for the Vatican City, also joined leaving Italy fully unified.

Italy was now the unified country we know today, but only politically; culturally, the states were still separated.

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