To what extent is it fair to refer to Cavour as the architect of the Italian Unification? After the failures of the 1848 revolution, Count Camillo Benso Di Cavour stepped in as the Prime Minister of Piedmont as the state was considered to be agitation concentration for those who still aimed and fought for the independence and unison of Italy. His liberal leadership philosophies enabled him to contribute in the movement towards the Italian Unification. However, is it fair to consider him an Italian Nationalist who always worked with his eyes on a unitary state?
Cavour certainly aimed to get rid of Austrian interference in Italy so that Piedmont would grow into the Italian leading state. To accomplish this goal, he had to modernize Piedmont and extend its influence. Yet, he was aware that success would only be achieved by gaining foreign aid as Piedmont itself lacked strength to fight Austria alone. An opportunity to ally and get support from other nations rose during the Crimean War. Piedmont took the French and British sides on a war against Russia, which got defeated in 1856.
As well as gaining the sympathy of France and Britain, Piedmont got the chance to attend the Paris Peace Conference where Cavour had the opportunity to share his intentions on ending with all Austrian domination over Italy. Although his plans were not much acclaimed, he did establish friendly relations with the French Emperor, Napoleon III. The two men met at Plombieres on July 20th and an agreement was made stating that if Austria attacked Piedmont, France would send in troops to help the fighting in return for the lands of Nice and Savoy.
According to the historian Mac Smith, “Britain however, mistrusted Cavour and never planned war against Russia”. But still, with the French support, Cavour now tempted Austria into war, and when an ultimatum was issued, he rejected it declaring war. Austria was defeated provoking turbulences and commotions throughout Italy. Napoleon, however, was surprised by the rate at which events were moving and concluded an armistice with Austria causing Cavour to resign, as without France, Piedmont had to hope to grow.
Still, the revolutionary movements in Italy while Cavour was still in power had motivated people from Tuscany, Parma, Modena and parts of the Papal States who were calling for annexation to Piedmont. Cavour came straight back to power in 1860 offering Napoleon the states of Nice and Savoy in return for the states of Central Italy. Some historians agree that at this point Cavour even hindered the Unification process as by giving Italian states away to France he was breaking down territorial integrity.
Napoleon held a plebiscite and a devastating number of voters wished for the unification to the Piedmontese-Sardinian Kingdom. At this point, Cavour had reached all he aimed for. Piedmont was now a strong constitutional monarchy, which acted as a leader over the other Italian Sates. Through war, Cavour aimed to gain national glory only and his idea of foreign assistance never had the intention to help Italy achieve unification, it only meant to empower Piedmont. He was able to initiate the economic transformation of the state, enlarge the merchant fleet, treble foreign trade and develop the railway network.
Cavour also established a political partnership, the Cannubio, in which he was able to resist pressure from the clerical right and the revolutionary left as he had his own centre-right party and Ratzzi’s centre-left group. This indicates that he that he focused on methods to modernize and develop Piedmont, and only Piedmont. He was satisfied with what he had achieved and had no intention to expand his kingdom into the southern states. He thought that by joining Naples and Sicily he would be taking the unification idea too further away and that it would provoke foreign opposition. The historian D.
Beales says, “Cavour never talked of Unification but Piedmontese Domination” and LCB Seaman agrees when he states: “All that can be safely said is that Cavour wanted to get as much as could reasonably be obtained (for Piedmont), but no more”. Later in 1860, a new Italian figure appears. Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian Patriot, who had been a republican under the power of Giuseppe Mazzini in 1831, steps in. He had always been very determined about uniting Italy and had spent his entire life fighting for Austrian expulsion off Italy. A contrasting figure, with its ambitions set very clear, when compared to Cavour.
Garibaldi was passionate for his country and wanted to make it all into one. When a revolution broke out it Sicily, he saw the opportunity to assist it. He soon took over the capital and prepared to attack the mainland. Garibaldi entered through Messina, struck north for Naples and made plans to enter Rome. Cavour immediately sent troops south in order to prevent Garibaldi from entering Rome, as it could be a great threat to incite war with France. The fact that Cavour did not support Garibaldi’s views and aims suggests that he undoubtedly did not want the whole unification of Italy.
Cavour had no sympathy for Garibaldi, as he believed he was taking the idea of unification to another level and even ordered his arrest. Cavour made it very clear that he concentrated on the affairs of Northern Italy only and did not want the Southern part to join in. The Southern Italian states, however, demanded to unify with Piedmont and Cavour held a plebiscite. A massive majority was in favour of annexation to Piedmont and Garibaldi was forced to hand in over Sicily and Naples to Victor Emmanuel II who was than proclaimed King of Italy. Later in 1870, a plebiscite was held at Rome, which was also united to Italy.
The Italian Unification was never under Cavour’s policy. The fact that the Italians aimed to unify altogether made them want to unify with Piedmont beforehand as they saw it as the first step to Unification. Cavour’s intention to simply achieve Piedmontization failed due to the favourable factors that made the Italian Unification so successful. It is evident that Cavour was not the architect of the Italian Unification as he even tried to hinder the process. If he had not tried to stop Garibaldi in 1860 when he tried invading Rome, the unification process might had been completed before 1870.
The historian LCB Seaman says that “For him (Cavour) the idea was tainted with radicalism, and his diplomat’s sense of realities told him there were too many insurmountable obstacles in the way”. Cavour did however, to a certain extent, enable the Italian Unification, as he was the one who began fighting for it (eventhough for him it only meant Piedmontese unification). He opened the door for Garibaldi. Without him, Garibaldi would have not been able to take over Sicily and move to the mainland so easily.
Cavour was able to do what Mazzini couldn’t, he was able to reach every Italian and motivate them with the idea of unification. However, his intentions of unifications were very limited and the people of Italy wanted more than what he proposed. When Garibaldi stepped in, he knew he had massive support as a result of what Cavour had originally suggested. We can, therefore, say that Cavour enabled and contributed to the Italian Unification, but it would a falsity to refer to him as the Architect of the Italian Unification as he made it very clear that his intentions were never to reach this point.
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