Nationalist movement in 19th-century Italy culminating in the unification of the country by 1870. Its origins can be traced to the intellectual ferment of the 18th-century enlightenment and to the influence of the french revolution. Ignoring the liberal and national aspirations of many Italians, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 gave Austria a dominant position over an Italy divided into seven states. This settlement caused widespread antagonism. After many failures and disappointments, Austrian control was finally ended and a national Italian state achieved. The risorgimento falls into two distinct periods: 1815 to 1848 and 1849 to 1870.
Revolutionary unrest characterized these years. Immediately after the Congress of Vienna, Italians began vain demands for liberal reforms and constitutional guarantees. From 1831 the idea of unifying the peninsula gained support among intellectuals. Secret societies, such as the carbonari and Mazzini's Young Italy, organized conspiratorial activities and prepared the revolutions of 1820 1821, 1831, and 1848. The 1820s were dominated by the Carbonari and the 1830s and 1840s by the extreme, revolutionary, republican followers of Mazzini, but the 1840s witnessed the emergence of a moderate, liberal, Catholic group that looked to the papacy for leadership in a future confederation of Italian states. Among the leaders of this group were Manzoni, Capponi, Cattaneo, Ricasoli, rossi, Mamiani, Tommaseo, ventura, Balbo, and gioberti. It was composed mostly of devout, practicing Catholics, who were trying to reconcile their religious sentiments and loyalty to the Church with their desire for political liberty and representative government. When Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti became Pope Pius IX in 1846, they turned to him for leadership. "Viva Pio Nono" became the cry of many Italian patriots, especially after the papal allocution (Feb. 10, 1848) that concluded with the words, "God bless Italy." Until 1848 it was widely believed that Pius IX supported the cause of Italian independence. In fact, his policies added impetus to a movement that later the pope was unable to control or to stop.
Revolutions erupted across Europe in 1848 and reverberated throughout Italy. Popular pressure forced rulers to grant constitutions. An effort was made to form an Italian coalition against Austria, but Pius IX and Ferdinand II of Naples withdrew their troops, and the small army of Piedmont-Sardinia was defeated by Austria at the battles of Custozza and Novara. Subsequently the independent revolutionary governments in Milan, Venice, and Rome were suppressed one by one. By 1849 Austria was victorious. It had reestablished its rule over Lombardy and Venetia and had restored to Tuscany, Modena, and Parma rulers subservient to its policies. The recent constitutions were quickly revoked everywhere, except in Piedmont-Sardinia.
A decrease in revolutionary activity and the emergence of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as leader in the drive for unity marked the later period. The 1848 debacle influenced subsequent developments. Its violence
impressed on Pius IX the incompatibility between his role as head of the universal Church and his support of Italian liberal national aspirations. These events created a rift between the Church and the risorgimento, which was henceforth anticlerical and openly in favor of unification. A realignment of forces occurred throughout the peninsula as Mazzini's influence waned. Piedmont-Sardinia initiated a program of internal political and economic reforms and became the haven for political exiles from all parts of Italy. Moreover, the able leadership and diplomacy of Camillo Benso di cavour, its prime minister, who held power almost uninterruptedly from 1852 until his death in June 1861, gained the support of most Italian liberals and patriots, with the exception of Mazzini and a few of his diehard followers. In 1858 the Italian National Society, organized by many of the former republican leaders of the 1848 revolts, espoused the monarchial leadership. Cavour's diplomacy disavowed revolution and gained recognition abroad for Italy's national aspirations. In 1855 Piedmont-Sardinia entered the Crimean War against Russia and sent a small army to fight in the Crimea. This enabled Cavour to attend the Congress of Paris in 1856 with the great European powers. After the Pact of Plombières, which assured Cavour French support against Austria, war broke out in 1859 between Austria and Piedmont-Sardinia. Austria was defeated and ceded Lombardy. Within a few months Piedmont Sardinia succeeded in annexing most of central Italy, including parts of the states of the church. The expedition of garibaldi added the southern part of the peninsula. Early in 1861 the new kingdom of Italy (with Turin as its capital) was officially proclaimed, although Pius IX retained control of the Eternal City with the protection of French troops. Austria still held Venetia. Most Italian patriots agreed that the risorgimento would remain incomplete until Rome became part of the new kingdom and until Austria relinquished Venetia. The latter event occurred in 1866, when Italy allied with victorious Prussia against Austria. Rome fell into Italian hands in 1870, after France recalled its soldiers to meet the threat of Prussian attack. By 1870 the risorgimento could be considered finished, even though some claim that its completion did not occur until the acquisition of Italia irredenta (Italian territory still in Austrian hands) after World War I.
The risorgimento was mainly a political movement, but it can be interpreted also as a national revival that made Italy part of the 19th-century Western state system and civilization. As such, the movement posed serious religious problems, for with few exceptions all who participated in it were practicing Catholics, from the leaders of the 1821 revolts to General Cadorna, who occupied Rome in 1870. The split between the Church and the national and liberal movement began in 1848 and gained momentum after 1855, when the first Piedmontese anti-clerical laws were passed. From then on, Catholics who were also patriots were faced with a serious crisis of conscience. This created many problems for the new state and had serious consequences for Italy and its people until the schism was healed by the lateran pacts of 1929 (see roman question).
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[e. p. noether]