The First Italian Parliament after Unification
By: Tom Frascella May 2016
When Garibaldi and his forces arrived in Basilicata in September 1860 they found a volunteer Lucanian army of between 10,000 and 15,000 ready to join them. They also found a provisional government already formed and prepared to modestly fund the furtherance of the Garibaldian campaign against the Bourbon regime. While Garibaldi cherry-picked only about three thousand Lucanian men to take with him, the remaining men kept order and continued to solidify the revolutionary cause throughout the State of Basilicata.
Garibaldi on his arrival in Lucania was recognized by the Lucanians and their provisional government as the insurrection’s leader. In the spirit of unity the Lucanians acquiesced in what would become their first concession “against” self-governance. Garibaldi in the roll of “military commander/dictator” replaced the revolutionary regional Governor with a Governor of his choosing. This act you might say was the beginning of a new pattern of authoritarian rather than democratic self-rule for the region. Initially, Garibaldi’s dictates were accepted/perceived as necessary under the pressures of the war.
However, one would think that with the official defeat of the Bourbon King at Gaeta in mid-February 1861, Basilicata was positioned to prosper and enjoy the fruits of “unification” with Piedmont-Sardinia. Those “fruits” of unification should have included greater civil rights and the freedom to select their own local government officials in fair elections. In addition one would also think that as the war concluded normalization of governmental functions would commence. This was of course being what the Lucanian revolutionaries hoped to embrace and accomplish.
This was not to be the case as within months of the fall of Gaeta San Felese records indicate that pro-unification supporters were fleeing for their lives into the mountains from the very government they had helped install. In fact, after the fall of Gaeta Lucanians lost all civil freedoms within a matter of months.
In previous articles I have focused on the military events that occurred in the waning days of the war, October 1860-February 1861. It is now time to focus more on the “political” actions and events occurring during this same time frame and leading up to the seating of the First “Unified” Italian Parliament. It is in these political events more than the military deeds that the seeds for what would follow and led to massive social unrest were laid. More revolutions are lost in back rooms and cabinet meetings than on battlefields.
A Legislative Power Vacuum in Piedmont
King Victor Emmanuel II prior to Unification with southern Italy headed a Constitutional Monarchy in Piedmont-Sardinia. In a Constitutional monarchy power is shared with a formal elected Parliament or Legislature. The Piedmont-Sardinian Parliament of northern Italy went into normal recess in October 1860. This recess occurred just as the army of the north, 35,000 strong, made its way south theoretically to join the insurgency being led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Under the Piedmont Constitution elections for the new Parliament were scheduled to be held, not before, late January 1861. A duly elected “new” legislature therefore would not come into session until mid-February 1861. Typically you would expect that a Parliamentary body whose country’s army was heading off to war would remain in session on an emergency basis. No attempt to extend the session on an emergency basis in Piedmont occurred.
This meant as a practical matter that the actions of the King, his advisors and the Piedmont army over the course of the four months of Parliamentary recess were without legislative oversight. This was a situation that played well into the designs and ambitions of the King and his advisors. The lack of Legislative oversight allowed the King and his Prime Minister Cavour an unrestricted hand in the conduct of the coming campaign.
It was clear after Garibaldi’s stunning and rapid successes that the King must enter the southern conflict or risk the glory and possible control of the revolution staying in Garibaldi’s hands. How he should enter the campaign in the south was a complex political question. The paramount question was his own status in the advance southward. Should he be perceived by his acts as “aiding” Garibaldi and his forces, arriving, taking charge and commanding Garibaldi’s forces, liberating the citizens of the south, or conquering the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
There was also the question of how he should move his army southward. He certainly could have moved a considerable number of his troops to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by sea avoiding the Papal States. Not only did he have his own navy but after Naples fell to Garibaldi the entire Neapolitan fleet was his as well. In fact there was no navy to oppose him transporting by sea. So if he wished or it met his strategic plan he did not have to march southward by land. If he choose to take the seaward route he could have avoided direct confrontation with the Papacy altogether.
There is no historical record to suggest that King Victor Emmanuel II, once military preparations to invade the south were underway, ever considered a sea transport. He choose a land route which necessitated crossing Papal territories and provoking a Papal State defensive response. He choose his method in part because without the Piedmont Parliament being in session there would be no public debate on the provocation.
Further, once the King and his advisors made the decision to move southward he could have crossed Papal territory without occupying large portions of the Popes’ domain. Obviously, he choose both a southward land route and the occupation of significant Papal territory. The route chosen and the power exercised in the occupation was on the direct authority of the King and his chief advisor Prime Minister Cavour. The actions were carefully and successfully orchestrated to avoid larger European powers from direct involvement in the Italian campaign. They were also carefully staged, during the recess. The Church had powerful allies throughout Italy, vast land holdings and many devout Catholics to call on to pressure Piedmont legislators. So at least some measure of political objection or conflict within his legislature was possible.
Likewise when the King’s army entered the territory of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in late October 1860 the actions of the King and his ministers were not influenced by political debate in a legislative body. It was a body politic that had a number of pro Mazzini advocates. In this way the Piedmont control of the international political and diplomatic concerns could advance without internal conflict or undermining. There were no legislative voices either pro or con raised concerning the invasion. Here I can choose to describe the advance as an “invasion” as there was no “official” legislative definition for what was occurring. There was also no political discussion in a seated parliament on the subject rights of the citizens of the newly occupied territories.
The absence of Legislative authority shows itself even in mid-November when the coronation of Victor Emmanuel II was held in Naples. Again as he was installed as King of southern Italy was no Piedmont legislative body in session there could be no formal Piedmont Constitutional recognition of his new status. Although he assumed the mantle of King based in part upon the results of the southern Plebiscite there was no official legislative body to confirm a constitutional union of the two States. Therefore King Victor Emmanuel II became technical ruler of two kingdoms rather than one legally united Kingdom in the November 1860 coronation.
The four month break in session also provided additional political opportunities that allowed the King and his principle advisors to act on a range of urgent matters without the need to acquire legislative approval or support in advance. While the decisions made during this period can and should be criticized in hindsight, it cannot be argued that the regime’s actions during this time were anything but decisive, effective, purposeful and highly authoritarian exercises of personal power.
The Exercise of Expedient Authority over Civil Rights
The internal politics that the Piedmont regime faced in October 1860 were admittedly very complex. While “unification” was generally popular and embraced throughout Italy, how that unification should take form was much less clear. Some factions favored unification with a great amount of regional or provincial autonomy, originally Cavour’s position. Some favored centralization of authority, the King’s position. Some favored a constitutional monarchy while still others wanted a democratic republic, Mazzini’s position. Some favored separation of church and state, Piedmont’s position, while others wanted the church to continue in both a spiritual and temporal aspect as Italy’s state religion with some degree of independent secular authority, the Vatican’s unofficial position. So from King Victor Emmanuel’s perspective the physical conquest of the south only brought the political issues connected to unification to a head. He and his advisors were determined that the political process would conclude with him in control and political power consolidated in the monarchy.
In the decade that preceded the Second War of Unification many of the competing interests and rival political points of view mentioned above had developed militarized elements. Many of the participants in the revolution had fought in various regional uprisings. After the fall of the Bourbon monarchy this militarization was seen by Piedmont as presenting a real domestic threat to the stability of the emerging country and a unified effective monarchy. A threat that King Victor Emmanuel II and his advisors took very seriously and determined to nullify. Although King Victor Emmanuel II by October 1860 had an army of approximately 75,000 men it was inadequate to confront enemies and potential enemies on all sides and maintain order in a country of 20 million. In addition, the successes of the past half dozen years had come at a heavy financial price to his Kingdom. It has been estimated that Piedmont-Sardinia had spent the equivalent of about four times the treasury of the country by the time he had defeated the Bourbon forces at Gaeta.
International politics were no less complex for the regime. Italy in Piedmont’s view would not be fully unified until the south, all of the Papal territories, and Venice, were brought within the authority and communion of a unified Italian State. In order to unify fully Piedmont also knew that it had to keep its alliance with England and France politically viable and intact while defending and perhaps conquering territories held by formable foreign military forces.
In the new emerging “Italian” State it was apparent to the King and Cavour that by October there were four major competing factions and their militarized extensions that needed to be “handled” nullified in order to consolidate the Piedmont regimes domestic power. This needed to be done while the regime simultaneously solidified and organized its administrative, military, economic and political foundation from within and throughout the annexed new territories. In most histories the opposing domestic factions are identified from the Piedmontese perspective as the dislodged Bourbonists, the Mazzinians/Garibaldians, the Church and Austrian controlled Venice. It is interesting to follow how the regime systematically dismantled or attempted to dismantle its potential rival opposition to Piedmont dominance in the October 1860 to February 1861 period.
We have already discussed how the Mazzanians/Garibaldians were initially handled in the closing days of the southern campaign. By November 1860, as a first order of business Piedmont had effectively placed Mazzini, who had gone to Naples after it fell to Garibaldi, under house arrest. The King then made sure to separate Garibaldi from his insurgent army in the south. Garibaldi was then physically removed, after the coronation of Victor Emmanuel II in Naples. It was clear that King Victor wanted Garibaldi as far away from his troops and in a place where he could be watched carefully.
Since Garibaldi did not publicly protest his removal from command and forbad his closest officers from speaking of it, little of the actual politics that was taking place behind the scenes was understood by the public and the insurgent army. How much Garibaldi understood the political motivations is equally unclear. Without anyone questioning the removal, Garibaldi’s exit may have appeared simply as a reward or rest for the hero that had risked all for the cause rather than exile from the theater of operation to the many pro-unification supporters.
On a practical level Garibaldi’s removal and disbanding of the insurgent army effectively eliminated the troops as an effective military force. Just as importantly the disbanding placed the entire remaining treasury of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the unsupervised hands of King Victor’s Piedmont administrators. The immense treasury of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was estimated to be twice as large as the entire treasury of the rest of Italy. Clearly a sum of money that would go a long way to paying off the debt. Again, no Legislative oversight, no Legislative accountability and no Legislative controls attached and the King was able to prioritize this vast resource as he saw expedient.
Garibaldi’s thirty to forty thousand insurgent volunteer force was disbanded/discharged with a small stipend and sent home again without explanation on the King’s authority. The modest expenditure of a few lire each the insurgent force was lulled into a sense of progress toward the goal of full unification. The possibility of recall by the King and or absorption into the regular Piedmont army was intentionally made unclear to these volunteers at first.
As previously noted not all of the southern insurgent army was disbanded in November 1860. Some five thousand of Garibaldi’s men were retained in the south. These however were primarily Hungarian mercenaries and their officers. The native rank and file of enlisted men and officers were told that their status was under review with the Piedmont army.
So while the entire disbanding was carried out without recognition or honors for what they had accomplished it may have seemed to the men that it was just a part of a temporary process. In reality the real motive for the process was that the military arm of the Mazzini/Garibaldi pro-unity, pro-republic movement became effectively dissolved as an organized force in the south in order to begin to dismantle the Mazzinian political faction altogether. As we shall see this Political dismembering required the intentional discrediting of both Garibaldi and Mazzini by the Piedmont regime.
The only part of the Mazzini/Garibaldi equation that remained a possible military threat was Garibaldi’s late assertion before departing Naples that he would return in the spring to renew the campaign against the Papal States. Attached to that declaration was his boast that a million Italian volunteers would rally to the cause. Clearly Garibaldi saw such a course of action as consistent with the Piedmont regime’s intention to unify. He did not recognize that the regime regarded his popularity, assertiveness and his volunteers as at best unpredictable allies and at worst an internal threat to Piedmont’s authority and control.
To the extent possible the Piedmont regime purged sympathetic Garibaldi/Mazzini leaning officers and enlisted men even from the ranks of the Piedmont regular army by the end of November 1860. In addition, Piedmont called for the general conscription of men in January 1861. Piedmont realized that in order to fulfill its ambitions the army would have to at least triple in size. The conscription focused primarily on younger potential draftees. In a program whose origins we have seen in the recruitment and conscription attempted by Garibaldi in Sicily the young and politically naive were considered better recruits. The draft intentionally excluded former insurgent volunteers and the most professional of the Bourbon regulars, thousands of whom were in Piedmont prisons. Interestingly in the south few responded to the conscription with much support or enthusiasm. Thus leaving the Piedmont military undersized for the potential conflicts especially with Austria over Venice.
The Catholic Church and its allies in other “Catholic” countries in Europe had long been regarded as a major obstacle to Italian unity by Cavour and other influential advisors in Piedmont. As a practical matter the Church was one of the wealthiest entities residing within King Victor’s territories. That wealth and potential influence alone could make “political” problems for internal rule. King Victor and his advisor’s saw the problem as also one of opportunity. They confiscated vast Church owned land and monastery holdings throughout the northern territories, the newly acquired Papal territories and southern Italy.
“The existing concordats with Rome were thus unilaterally and without consultation abolished in Naples, Tuscany and Lombardy. Cardinal Corsi was arrested for “showing lack of respect to the King”, and other bishops were put in prison on relatively trifling accusations of refusing to co-operate. Church property was seized on a grand scale, because Cavour still believed that “the leprosy of monasticism” was a principal cause of economic backwardness. Seven hundred monasteries were eventually dissolved in the former papal territories of the Marche and Umbria, over a thousand in southern Italy, and more than twenty thousand monks and friars were dispossessed on the grounds that the state could not afford so many idle hands.” Cavour by Denis Mack Smith pages 243, 244.
The three immediate benefits to the Piedmont regime in taking the above are obvious. First, confiscating such vast holdings and turning out the monks and friars greatly diminished the influence, wealth and access to the people that the Church had in the conquered papal territories and southern Italy. Second, the confiscation placed that accumulated land wealth directly in the hands of the Piedmont government. Sale or distribution of this land would be a major resource to the regime going forward both by raising funds and by buying political support. Third, the arrest of leading church figures and confiscation of church lands sent a clear message to the Vatican/Rome. Cavour new that some attempt to intimidate the Vatican into turning over the occupied Papal territories by agreement was important to obtain. Cavour’s intention was to negotiate with the Vatican from a position of strength and threat of fiscal ruin. Of course thus far Rome and the Vatican had not been attacked, but this show of power demonstrated that resistance to Piedmont would result in unprecedented consequences. Again all of this was done while the Piedmont Parliament was in recess.
As we have previously written by the time that the Bourbon King Francis surrendered at Gaeta in mid-February 1861 there was little left of the organized army of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This army had once numbered about 125,000 men. From that starting number approximately 10,000-15,000 men had been killed or wounded during Garibaldi’s and King Victor Emmanuel’s military campaigns in the south. An additional 20,000-30,000 had been captured and imprisoned by Piedmont. Of the remaining force, 15,000 had escaped to Rome and the sanctuary of the Papal State. That left the bulk, approximately 65,000- 80,000 men unaccounted for in the southern Italian countryside. These were men who were in military units that surrendered to Garibaldi’s forces and had simply been told to go home. Garibaldi had insufficient resources to imprison these men and also felt that by accepting their surrender it encouraged others to do the same.
Most of the 65,000-80,000 men who had abandoned the fight against Garibaldi were not among the Bourbon army’s finest. Most were country boys, in regional National Guard units, poorly trained and equipped. Most had simply gone home to their towns and villages and faded into the fabric of southern Italian life. They presented no direct threat to the peace or security of the emerging unified country. Even during the October 1860-February 1861 Piedmont campaign against the Bourbon forces few attempted to re-engage in the fight. This was true even when in January early February Bourbon King Francis had attempted to rouse these former troops in an appeal to their pride and national loyalty.
For those who attempted to support King Francis’ position, settlement from the Piedmont forces was swift and merciless especially against civilians.
“The northern army, when it crossed into Neapolitan territory in mid-October, found that many of the peasants took arms on behalf of their former legitimate sovereign against a destructive foreign invasion that they could not be expected to understand. General Cialdini affected surprise and reacted by summary execution of “brigands” and “traitors” and civilians who tried to defend their property. He was prepared to treat captured Bourbon soldiers and uniformed mercenaries as prisoners, but anyone else who dared to resist had to be shot even if they surrendered. Although Cavour proudly claimed that “never was a war fought with greater generosity and magnanimity”, a good deal of offence was taken in other countries as well as in Italy over the unfortunate methods employed in this civil war, and the memory was to be a painful burden on the future”. Cavour pages 233 and 234.
Furthermore, the likelihood of Bourbon lead insurrections throughout the southern Italian countryside was diminished by the pro-Garibaldi/pro-unification provisional guards who were maintaining security throughout southern Italy. At least this was true until they were dismissed by King Victor. As a result there was no real opportunity for these Bourbon troops to organize until after January of 1861 at the earliest. The only exception to this was a relatively small number of more professional and loyal Bourbon soldiers. Some of these men had been isolated in larger units that surrendered en masse. They now found themselves in the countryside with no home or ability to rejoin their Bourbon comrades at Gaeta. However these were more or less rogue ineffective elements.
By early January 1861 King Victor Emmanuel, his military advisors and Prime Minister Cavour were confident that they had many of the domestic political control issues well in hand. The confiscation of the huge Neapolitan treasury together with the confiscation of monastic lands had greatly enriched the Piedmont treasury. This reduced the burden of debt of the regime for their costly military actions to date. In addition they thought little of the competence of the leaderless ex-Bourbon troops of southern Italy or the leaderless Garibaldian volunteers. Any opposition raised by these groups, Piedmont was confident, could be handled by military action and martial law. So rather than courting national comradeship, a government by Piedmont supervised administration, back-up by martial law, was imposed by Piedmont on the south.
“Whereas Garibaldi had won the trust and cooperation of many southerners by his good nature and honest concern for their welfare, the new Piedmontese administration chose to impose an authoritarian and military rule over a population that they all too clearly disliked and treated often with open contempt. Farini, (viceroy of Naples), indignantly reported that the inhabitants of the countryside were utterly inferior to those of what he called “Italian Italy” in the north. He referred to them as primitive barbarians, compared with whom the “African Bedouin” seemed the very flower of civilization; and the phrase “ferocious Bedouin” was also used to describe Sicilians by Cavour’s first viceroy in Palermo. When the King boasted that a single Piedmontese regiment would be sufficient to keep such canaille and riff-raff in subjection, Cavour repeated his approval of using martial law and armed might “to force unity on the weakest and most corrupt region of Italy”. Cavour pages 238 and 239.
As you can see from the above as early as the beginning of 1861 Piedmont had decided on a path going forward for unification with the south which was largely based on non-regional administrative enforcement supported by martial law and predicated on racial and moral prejudices against the south. The direction of suppression and the attitudes were intentional and were coming from the highest ranks of the Piedmont regime.
As the King was confident in his control in the south he could turn his attention to quickly forcing elections for the new Parliament by the end of January. Here by bribe, and other influences the object was to seat a pro Monarchy majority which could minimize the Garibaldian/Mazzinian political faction. If this could be accomplished then the continued progress of “unification”, the absorption of the Venetian and full Papal territories could follow. Again flush with the newly confiscated revenues the King garnered the prospective legislature he needed.
The Enemy of My Enemy
It would appear from the histories of the time that well before the final success against the Bourbons at Gaeta Cavour and King Victor Emmanuel II were plotting their next move toward full unification of the Italian Peninsula. Initially Cavour considered that a renewed war with Austria that contested the control of Venetian territory was the next logical move. Some of the January 1861 attempt at conscription may have been done in an attempt to build up the army for just such an eventual conflict with Austria.
Cavour, a master at manipulation and international intrigue would never had plotted such a course against Austrian interests directly. Misdirection and international subplots were his game and he needed a way to bring other European allies into the potential conflict. Piedmont settled as early as mid-November 1860 on an attempt to encourage internal unrest in the Austrian European Empire. Obviously it was felt that if Austria was sufficiently distracted by far flung internal political uprisings an opportunity to press Piedmont’s designs for Venice could arise.
Piedmont secretly shipped five shiploads of rifles and cannons to what it hoped were revolutionaries in Romania. Cavour, hoped that by underwriting this revolt Romania and possibly other parts of the Austrian Empire might rebel. “The cargoes were listed as grain and coffee. On 22 November, two of the ships reached Galatz on the Danube, but by an unfortunate error the three thousand crates of coffee were clearly marked as having been packed in the royal arsenals of Turin and Genoa. Three Piedmontese consular officials urgently set to work painting out these compromising signs, but were too late because an Austrian warship had been tracking the operation. Protests were soon pouring in from turkey and other European governments.” Cavour page 241.
Caught as it were red handed Cavour continued to deny he knew anything about the shipment, however this plan to encourage revolution went from bad to worse:
“Cavour continued through January 1861 to pledge his word of honour that he knew nothing about this gun-running, and made an official protest at Constantinople when the three other vessels were impounded by the Turks. But this further piece of bluff did not improve his reputation abroad. Queen Victoria fulminated against the “piratical and filibustering proceedings” of this really bad, unscrupulous Sardinian government”, and a note from the Foreign Office in London cynically wondered “what lie Cavour will palm off on Hudson” to explain what had been going on.” Cavour 241 and 242.
Of course Cavour needed to extricate himself from this diplomatic disaster and found a convenient lie as the international condemnation and pressure grew;
“The lie, when it emerged, cannot have caused much surprise: it was to put all the blame on Garibaldi, a convenient if innocent scapegoat, and the Piedmontese ambassadors were instructed to spread the story that Garibaldi owned these arms and was irresponsibly seeking to employ them for a revolution of his own making in eastern Europe. Here was another opportunity to deflate the dangerously high esteem enjoyed abroad by the ex-dictator of Naples. But the story was not believed, and Russel was confirmed in his belief that Cavour could no longer be trusted to tell the truth about anything.”
In the spreading of the rumor that Garibaldi was behind the shipment we see the first public attempt to undermine the reputation both national and international of Garibaldi and the “young Italy” Mazzinian republican revolution.
Cavour however was a practical politician, with his plan against Austria in shambles, he sought more modest triumphs for his cause of Piedmont domination of the entire Italian peninsula. He recognized that international recognition of King Victor Emmanuel as King of a unified Italy was an important “international” fact that must be achieved as soon as possible. As part of this recognition the permanent annexation of the Papal territories then in the possession of the Piedmont army was also a necessary element.
King Victor Emmanuel I or II and the First Unified Parliament
The elections for Parliament took place in late January 1861 not only with the approval of the King but with his insistence. The King and his advisors realized that acting with speed was to their political advantage. The Parliamentary elections of late January resulted in a majority of representatives who supported the King and his advisors. This result was aided by several unsavory factors. These factors are articulated in the following passage;
“Until almost the last moment he, (Cavour), had been in some doubt about the election result, especially since the great majority of deputies would be from regions with no parliamentary tradition. But official pressure and electoral manipulation was used on a substantial scale, and fortunately for Cavour all good Catholics were discouraged from voting, in protest at official policy. On a very narrow franchise, in which only about one and one-half per cent of the population voted, candidates backed by government patronage and by local authorities had strong advantage, while the restricted suffrage helped to elect conservatives who stood against the threat of social or political revolution.” Cavour page 252.
Despite gaining a majority for support the Piedmont regime left little to chance in the unifying process. Prior to the new Parliament being called into session on February 18, 1861 the regime made several important unilateral last minute decisions.
First, it determined that Piedmont law should apply universally throughout the “unified” country.
“Whatever his theoretical preference, Cavour decided after the plebiscites of October 1860 that Piedmontese laws should be arbitrarily imposed on Naples and Sicily. There was no time to waste in trying to obtain from Parliament the necessary powers to sanction this decision, nor time to investigate whether the laws of other regions might in some respects be preferable, nor how far local conditions made uniformity of treatment inadvisable. The courageous order was given that Piedmontese law codes had to be introduced at once and entire before Parliament could question this act of centralization: in fact, not by accident, the relevant royal decree was hurriedly published the very day before Parliament was due to assemble. In the final few hours before Parliament met, fifty-three decree-laws were rushed into print in Naples, altering the whole administrative structure of the south before this immense revolution could be discussed in the press or by local representatives in the legislature.
Of course many objections were at once raised…When some of the deputies protested that the government had been given no authority to impose the Piedmontese legal codes on the whole country, the minister replied that there could be no rigid observance of legality during a revolution. Specific instructions were sent to appoint Piedmontese civil servants in Naples and to take no account of local objections, while the administration was furthermore told to disregard the strong opposition of the committiees of Sicilians and Neapolitans that had been appointed to give advice on this and kindred matters.” Cavour page 252.
Even the issue as simple as how the King would be known in this new State of Italy was decided in favor of the Piedmont perspective. The King upon ascending the throne of Piedmont-Sardinia was known as Victor Emmanuel II. Some suggested that as King of the new “unified” country he should be known as Victor Emmanuel I indicating that he was the first of this new unified Italian Kingship.
“Cavour decided before Parliament met that the royal title ought to remain “Victor Emmanuel II”, though others would have preferred “Victor Emmanuel I” to show that the Kingdom of Italy was a new nation and not merely a continuation or extension of the former “Kingdom of Sardinia, Cyprus and Jerusalem”. Ricasoli protested that keeping the old title was yet another example of “Piedmontization” and of Cavour’s high-handedness; he thought it degrading to the other regions who thought of themselves not as “annexed” to Piedmont but part of an altogether new kingdom for which they had voted. Cavour, however, under pressure from the royal palace, insisted on “annexation” and argued that a change of title would dishonor the King by making him seem a new ruler holding office merely by virtue of popular plebiscites, rather than as a hereditary monarch by grace of God”. Cavour page 253.
The language, attitudes and process imposed make it quite clear that the unity of north and south was not going to be on a basis of equal regional footing or based upon legislatively mandated democratic initiatives.
Negotiations with the Pope on the question of annexation of former Papal territories took a similar high-handed and sinister turn. The consequence of that failed negotiation would have lasting political, social and cultural consequence especially in southern Italy.
Negotiating With the Papacy
As we have already discussed in this article, as a prelude to discussion with the Vatican over the Papal territories under the control of the Piedmont army Cavour attempted to enter negotiations from a position of psychological and political strength not weakness. As stated Piedmont seized all of the monasteries in the newly acquired territories and had all of the monks and friars put out. This certainly served as a warning shot across the bow of the Vatican. But In southern Italian communities, especially rural communities, monasteries filled a critical role in the economy and function of the regions. While much can be made of the negatives of the large land holdings by the Church it has been too easy to dismiss the benefits. Many monks did labor among the poor and sick. Many religious served as teachers, arbitrators, information bearers and community activists for good. Their elimination left a vacuum among the poor and lower class without making provision for replacement. So the cultural, economic and social harm was immediately felt in the southern rural communities.
Having made his pragmatic and aggressive point with the Vatican Cavour was ready to have his negotiators sit down with the Pope. Part of the assessment for how to proceed in the negotiations was based on the fact that both Cavour and the King considered the Pope an intellectual lightweight. I don’t think that is a fair assessment. Pope Pious the IX was somewhat open to what might have been perceived as liberalism but the Church is a notoriously conservative institution. It was also known that the Pope considered himself an “Italian” and so had personal affinity toward the nationalistic movement. These personal leanings may have suggested a greater opening in negotiations than were really present.
Unfortunately, neither side to the negotiation choose the best negotiators for the task. Clearly both sides had people involved that had mixed and sometimes personal agendas. The process that Piedmont used alternated between bribes and threats. The bribes came as a result of the selection of Cardinal Antonelli, the Vatican Secretary of State as the chief Vatican negotiator. The Piedmont negotiators learned that Antonelli and a number of lower ranking administrators for the Vatican might be open to bribes. In fact Cavour authorized the offer of a “solatium of 3 million papal scudi to this one man, in other words over 15 million lire, which was nearly a thousand times the salary of a government minister. In addition he agreed to indemnify Antonelli’s numerous relatives and condone the corrupt practices exercised by his family in the civic administration of Rome.” “Cavour” page 246. Eventually, however the bribes came to naught and the talks collapsed. Instead the Pope rejected the negotiations and he issued; “a papal encyclical, Iamdudum cernimus, formally repudiated any possibility that Catholicism could ever “come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization”. Cavour page 247
Photograph of Pope Pious IX
Which brings us to the seating of the pro-Piedmont Parliament of February 18, 1861. From its inception Cavour meeting with his strong majority made a major goal of the Parliament clear; When the new Parliament finally assembled on 18 February 1861, Cavour found himself with another comfortable majority for what he told Poerio was the “fight against Garibaldism”. “Cavour” page 252.
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