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Giuseppe Mazzini

Giuseppe Mazzini

The Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) devoted his life to achieving liberty and unity for Italy. He placed the skill of his pen at the service of a vigorous republicanism.

Giuseppe Mazzini was born on June 22, 1805, at Genoa. He was a sickly but brilliant child, sufficiently precocious to take a law degree from the university of his native city at the age of 21. He began very early to write reviews, but after joining the Carbonari during the flurry of revolutionary activity of 1830, he turned his writing to more exclusively political ends. As a result, he was imprisoned and kept in the fortress of Savona for 6 months, after which he was released for lack of evidence.

Revolutionary Organizations

In the solitude of his prison cell Mazzini developed a clear idea of the direction he wanted his life to take and conceived plans for a new organization which was formed shortly after his release. La Giovine Italia (Young Italy) would devote itself to liberation, unity, and republicanism. It would seek these goals through elaborate educational programs and, if need be, guerrilla warfare. During the formation of Young Italy, Mazzini was in Marseilles, where he had gone into exile after his release from prison. In the summer of 1832 he withdrew into Switzerland under pressure from the French government. From there in 1833 he played an incidental part in an attempt to cause mutiny in the Sardinian army. The effort was a failure, and Mazzini was sentenced to death in absentia. This did not cause him to flinch or slacken his efforts, and in the same year he founded Central Europe, a journal devoted to the liberation of Savoy.

In 1834 a second and a third association were formed under Mazzini's influence, Young Europe and Young Switzerland, respectively. These groups were devoted to the principles of liberty and equality for all. There followed upon these activities a period of some restlessness and uncertainty for Mazzini. Trouble with the Swiss government caused him to be exiled, and in early 1837 he moved to London, where he scratched a meager living from some desultory writing of reviews. He increased his revolutionary contacts during the next few years and in 1840 established a workingmen's association.

Roman Republic

Suspicions grew in London over Mazzini's clandestine relationships, and the dubious practice of opening his mail was undertaken by the home secretary, Sir James Graham. It was certainly true that the uncomfortable Italian guest was corresponding secretly with revolutionaries in his homeland. In 1848, when revolts broke out in Milan and Messina, he returned to Italy in the knowledge that the leaders of the rising were men of his acquaintance. That he had already achieved a considerable reputation is attested to by the fact that he was named in 1849, almost simultaneously, to the provisional government of Tuscany and the constituent assembly of the Roman Republic, both ill-fated outgrowths of the insurrections taking place throughout Europe.

On March 23, 1849, with defeat hovering over the revolution, Mazzini was made one of the Roman Triumvirate. His strong hand kept some order in the city until its surrender on June 30 forced him first into seclusion and then once again into exile. He kept his revolutionary fervor and in the next decade became involved, from London, in several more abortive Italian uprisings. His new journal, Pensiero e azione (Thought and Action), published in London, urged violence in the cause of liberty and unity.

Later Years

Mazzini came to believe, as the fateful years of 1859 and 1860 approached, that the only force capable of leading a successful insurrection against the repressive regimes of Italy was the kingdom of the Piedmont. Accordingly, he wrote to King Victor Emmanuel II, urging him in powerful language to take up the cause of Italian unity. He did this without surrendering to the monarchical principle. Inwardly at least he had not lost hope of a republican form of government for his countrymen, and when practical necessity made of the new Italian state a kingdom rather than a republic, he was disappointed. He demonstrated this continuing antipathy to monarchy as a governmental form when, in 1865, he rejected a seat in the Italian Parliament to which he had been elected by Messina. He did this because, as he put it, he felt that he could not take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy.

At that time Mazzini was still technically under sentence of death, and it was only in the following year, in a general amnesty granted when Venice was ceded to Italy, that the sentence was reversed. This was not the end of his troubles. In 1869 the Swiss government, at the request of the Italian one, forced him to leave Switzerland, where he had taken up residence. It was known that he was in touch with Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had run afoul of the Italian government over the status of Rome.

In 1870 on his way to Sicily, Mazzini was arrested and imprisoned. He was soon released but the confinement further embittered him, and he turned the energies of his last years to social questions. He tried his hand at guiding a working-class movement and even became involved, un-characteristically, with theoreticians like Karl Marx and the nihilist Mikhail Bakunin. These relationships lasted only briefly, and Mazzini, no socialist, parted company with the working classes.

Mazzini's death at Pisa on March 10, 1872, brought forth a national public display of grief, voted unanimously by the Italian Parliament. Italy was already grateful to Mazzini, although the magnitude of his contribution to its emergence as a modern state would be fully understood only later.

Further Reading

The best source for Mazzini is his own writings, many of which are given in Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini (6 vols., 1890-1891). Valuable works in English are Bolton King's Mazzini (1903) and his more general A History of Italian Unity: Being a Political History of Italy from 1814 to 1871 (2 vols., 1899; rev. ed. 1924). Other studies of Mazzini include Edyth Hinkley, Mazzini: The Story of a Great Italian (1924); G. O. Griffith, Mazzini: Prophet of Modern Europe (1932); Stringfellow Barr, Mazzini: Portrait of an Exile (1935); Edward Elton Young Hales, Mazzini and the Secret Societies (1956); and Gaetano Salvemini, Mazzini (trans. 1956). Mazzini is discussed in several works on the struggle for Italy's unification: George Martin, The Red Shirt and the Cross of Savoy: The Story of Italy's Risorgimento, 1748-1871 (1969), and Edgar Holt, The Making of Italy, 1815-1870 (1971).

Additional Sources

Barr, Stringfellow, Mazzini: portrait of an exile, New York: Octagon Books, 1975, 1935.

Mazzini, Budapest: Gondolat, 1977.

Mack Smith, Denis, Mazzini, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Srivastava, Gita, Mazzini and his impact on the Indian national movement, Allahabad: Chugh Publications, 1982. □

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Mazzini, Giuseppe

Giuseppe Mazzini (jōōzĕp´pā mät-sē´nē), 1805–72, Italian patriot and revolutionist, an outstanding figure of the Risorgimento. His youth was spent in literary and philosophical studies. He early joined the Carbonari, was imprisoned briefly, and went into exile. In Marseilles he founded the secret society Giovine Italia [young Italy], which led a vigorous campaign for Italian unity under a republican government. Mazzini went to Switzerland, then to London (1837), working untiringly at revolutionary propaganda. His influence on Italian radicals, as well as on revolutionaries throughout Europe, was tremendous. During the revolutions of 1848, when uprisings occurred in Milan, the Papal States, and the Two Sicilies, Mazzini returned to Italy; in 1849 he was one of the leaders of the Roman republic. After its fall he resumed his propaganda from abroad. He organized unsuccessful uprisings in Milan (1853) and an ill-fated expedition in S Italy (1857). He often came secretly to Italy, although he had been condemned to death in absentia. Back in London in 1858 he founded the newspaper Pensiero ed azione [thought and action]. He supported Giuseppe Garibaldi's expedition to Sicily, but unlike Garibaldi, he remained a confirmed republican. His relations with Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Sardinian premier, were strained; although both strove for Italian unification, their ideas were opposite, Cavour relying for help on a foreign power (France), Mazzini believing in revolution and war based on direct popular action. He was briefly imprisoned (1870) in Italy for revolutionary activities. Mazzini's work was inspired by his great moral strength. His program was not only political, but deeply social, aiming at human redemption on a religious and moral basis, at liberty, and at justice. His literary style is remarkably fine. He wrote on politics, social science, philosophy, and literature. A selection of his works has appeared in English (6 vol., 1890–91).

See biographies by G. O. Griffith (1932, repr. 1970), S. Barr (1935), E. Holt (1967), and D. M. Smith (1994); study by G. Salvemini (tr. 1957).

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Mazzini, Giuseppe

Mazzini, Giuseppe (1805–72) Italian patriot and theorist of the Risorgimento. A member of the Carbonari (Italian republican underground) from 1830, he founded the ‘Young Italy’ movement in 1831, dedicated to the unification of Italy. He fought in the Revolutions of 1848, and ruled in Rome in 1849, but was then exiled. Unlike Garibaldi or Cavour, Mazzini remained committed to popular republicanism.

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Mazzini, Giuseppe

MAZZINI, GIUSEPPE

MAZZINI, GIUSEPPE (1805–1872), the most inspirational figure of the Italian Risorgimento.

Giuseppe Mazzini was born in Genoa on 22 June 1805 to a family of the upper middle class, the third of four children and the only male. His father was a successful medical doctor and university professor, his mother a well-educated woman who shared her son's interests and convictions. Both parents were religious, but it was the Jansenist inclinations of the mother that had the greatest impact on the son. Jansenists were Catholics who took their religion in pure form, with little ritual and much moral commitment. So did the mother and the son. After experiencing a personal crisis in his youth, the son insisted that there could be no true commitment to worldly causes without a religious foundation. Precociously intelligent and a quick learner, the young Mazzini was educated at home by private tutors, entered the University of Genoa at age fourteen, and graduated with a law degree in 1827. But the law was not his calling. Like many of his generation, he was drawn to the literature of Romanticism, which satisfied the need for passionate expression.

Love of country became the passion of Mazzini's life after an encounter with the destitute victims of the failed revolution of 1821 begging in the streets of Genoa on their way into exile. It was on that occasion, he claimed, that he first perceived that one could, and that therefore one should, fight for the ideals of patria and libertà. The ideals of homeland and liberty were the two anchors of his creed. God was at the root of the creed, but Mazzini's attention was on the affairs of this world and his theology was nonconformist. His experience of a warm and supportive family life may have had something to do with the notion that love is the most sublime human passion, for he attributed to the capacity for love the ability of individuals to transcend their egoism and reach out in broadening circles of empathy toward the whole human race. Attachment to family and nation were part of that continuum. God was the driving force of history. Mazzini's motto "God and the People" summed up his view that human agency followed a divine script. The name of that script was Progress.

A people divided and under foreign control had a duty to become free and united so that they could fulfill the earthly mission that God assigned to them for the benefit of humanity. A people deprived of their freedom had no choice but to revolt. Mazzini was not loath to accept the legitimacy of violence when the means of peaceful change were denied. Monarchy was the target of his revolutionary violence. Monarchies in any shape or form were corrupt because they existed to protect dynastic interests rather than the public good. Mazzinianism thus revolved around the political postulates of republicanism, democracy, national independence, and unity.

Deeming it immoral not to act on one's convictions, Mazzini coined the motto "Thought and Action" to emphasize that principled action was a duty. The concept of duty loomed large in Mazzini's thinking, and often trumped the concept of individual rights. The moral imperative to act on his convictions made him a leader of student protests and a member of the secret Carboneria society, which he joined the same year that he graduated from university. He was a zealous Carbonaro, recruiting near and far and making a nuisance of himself with less zealous fellow conspirators. He could not abide the hocus-pocus of secret rituals and did not share the Carbonari's faith that they could work with constitutional monarchs. Absolute or constitutional, all monarchs were unacceptable to Mazzini. Someone from inside the secret society set him up. Arrested, imprisoned, and tried on charges of sedition, he was given the choice between confinement at home and expatriation.

Mazzini chose to go abroad and left for France in January 1831 to begin life as a political exile. He hoped that the July Revolution that had succeeded in France would also succeed in Italy. When that did not happen, he founded his own organization to take up where the secret societies had left off.


Young Italy openly proclaimed its republicanism, commitment to revolution, democracy, and social justice. Harassed by the French police, Mazzini moved to Geneva in July 1833, but nothing went as planned. In February 1834 incursions into the region of Savoy by armed bands of exiles failed to ignite the popular revolts that Mazzini counted on to start the revolution. Young Italy never recovered from these setbacks. Undeterred, Mazzini launched Young Europe in April 1834 with a few other Italian, German, and Polish exiles to unify the revolutionary forces of Europe. Young Europe also foundered, but the notion of forming a unified revolutionary front lived on.

Forced to leave Switzerland, Mazzini settled in London in January 1837. In the English capital he wrote for British publications, made friends with Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), opened a school for Italian workers, revived Young Italy, and gained recognition as the voice of the Italian national movement. Living in a cosmopolitan city broadened Mazzini's vision. He became more aware of the problems of industrial society, showed renewed interest in workers, and made room for them in Young Italy. He insisted that workers be part of the national movement and exhorted middle-class Italians to help their less fortunate brothers for the sake of national solidarity. To workers he held out the prospect of full political participation in republican Italy. The right to vote would guarantee workers their rights.

By the time the revolutions of 1848 broke out, Mazzini had to contend with competitors. Charles Albert (r. 1831–1849) was one. The administrative reforms of this enigmatic monarch and his covert expressions of support for Italian independence appealed to liberals. Liberal Catholics and their Neo-Guelph movement were invigorated by the election of the reputedly liberal Pope Pius IX (r. 1846–1878) in 1846. According to the leader of the Neo-Guelphs, Vincenzo Gioberti (1801–1852), the pope was the natural leader of the movement for Italian independence, a view that Mazzini found abhorrent. Mazzini returned to Italy in April 1848 after an absence of seventeen years to find popular acclaim and opposition. Even republicans were no longer united behind him. In Milan he clashed with Carlo Cattaneo (1801–1869), a republican federalist who did not share Mazzini's enthusiasm for centralized government, and with Giuseppe Ferrari (1811–1876), a federalist and a socialist.

Mazzini found a friendlier reception in Rome. The short-lived Roman Republic of 1849 gave Mazzini the opportunity to put his ideas to the test. He worshipped the name of Rome and believed that democratic government was destined to spread from Rome to the rest of Europe. He was principally responsible for the experiment in republican government as the leading figure of a governing triumvirate. He set out to show the world that republicans could live up to their ideals and govern responsibly. The republic adopted universal suffrage, organized popular clubs to involve ordinary people in public affairs, staged rallies and ceremonies, provided relief for the unemployed, curtailed clerical privileges, declared an end to the pope's temporal rule, and maintained public order—all to no avail. A coalition of powers led by France evicted the insurgents and restored Rome to the pope.

Mazzini continued to fight monarchy and rely on popular revolution when others lost faith in his ways. From London he plotted insurgencies in Italy that failed and cost his dwindling followers dearly. Abandoned by the middle classes that turned increasingly toward the charismatic Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882) and the adroit Count Cavour (Camillo Benso, 1810–1861), Mazzini pinned his hopes on workers. His book The Duties of Man (1860) exhorted workers to be mindful of their rights and duties, reject class warfare, and remain loyal to the ideal of a republican Italy. Many listened, and not only in Italy, but his condemnation of the Paris Commune and socialism alienated militant radicals, who rejected him. A sense of isolation and failure marked the last years of his life. He died in Pisa under an assumed name, for he was still officially banned from the country. His acceptance as a founder of the nation came some thirty years after his death, when the passage of time defused the passions that made him controversial.

See alsoCarbonari; Cavour, Count (Camillo Benso); Garibaldi, Giuseppe; Italy; Pius IX.

bibliography

Primary Sources

Mazzini, Giuseppe. Selected Writings. Edited by N. Gangulee. London, 1945.

——. Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini. 6 vols. London, 1864–1870.

Secondary Sources

Mack Smith, Denis. Mazzini. New Haven, Conn., 1994.

Sarti, Roland. Mazzini: A Life for the Religion of Politics. Westport, Conn., 1997.

Roland Sarti

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