THE BIRTH OF MEZZOGIORNO (1860-1866)
WHEN YOU GET TO THE FORK IN THE ROAD, TAKE IT
BY: TOM FRASCELLA APRIL 2015
April is the beginning of my San Fele writing year. I began writing about the history of the town and the region April 1, 2007 shortly after our website was created. In April I generally produce a summary article about the subjects I expect to write about during the coming twelve months. This summary article is placed under the history section of the site. For the most part I try to offer articles on historical events from a defined time period. Generally the site was designed to cover events sequencing from most ancient events to more contemporary. Past writing summaries have dealt with historical events that sometimes occurred over long periods of time, and summaries of other writing years covered shorter periods. Frequently, the time frame covered is dictated by the number and nature of the events that were playing out in Italy and America in the time period of concern. The next writing year will focus on one of the shortest time periods covered thus far 1860-1866. I don’t think that I need to discuss at any length that the historical period covered from 1860-1866 was intensely complex and violent in both the United States and Italy. So much occurred culturally, economically, militarily and politically in both locations that whole libraries could be and are filled with topics and yet much more has remained unwritten. In addition to the domestic events that helped shape both nations are occurrences which connect some individuals from each nation to specific events occurring in each nation.
Of course over-shadowing everything that occurred during this time was the initiation and playing out of two enormously bloody civil wars, one in each locale. An immediate consequence of those two civil wars were about 700,000 American military and civilian deaths between 1861-1865 and about 700,000-1,000,000 Italian military and civilian deaths between 1858-1890. In contrast to the American conflict the majority of the Italian deaths from their civil war, which they characterize as wars of unification, were among the civilian population. In fact the civilian casualties which continued over a thirty year span in the south exceeded all of the military casualties from all of the so-called three wars of Italian Unification. Both civil wars, as is often the case in hugely violent civil strife, altered the course of the development of both the United States and Italy in hundreds of ways. Ways that echo and are evolving in the present in modern America and Italy. But most important from the perspective of Italian- Americans and their descendants was the aftermath that the Italian wars of unification would have. Specifically the Displacement/immigration of 12 million Italians who fled Italy from 1860-1930. This immigration was the largest diaspora in recorded human history. The diaspora was only temporarily halted by the Italian government’s shut down of immigration as a prelude to building up its armed forces prior to World War II.
I can’t hope to do the subject of those perilous times justice in this modest website format. What I can hope to do over the course of the next years’ writing is to give some insight as to how the major events of the time took shape and affected our San Felese/ Lucanian ancestors. This will be the last year of contribution to the history on the website. So essentially I am halting the history at the start of the “mass immigration” of Lucanians to the Americas. While my intent is to stop after this year with the website additions, it is only for the purpose of switching to a book format for the remaining history timeline. My concern is that if I continued in telling the “American” post 1866 story of the Lucanian immigration and assimilation that the website would become too unwieldy.
As a start to the process of beginning this final year’s writing I refer back to the title or actually two titles of this article. I chose the titles as much for what they state as what they do not say.
In Italian history the period 1859-1861 is considered and is called the period of “the Second War of Italian Unification”. The time when the Italian peninsula went from its historic multi-regional small States network to the beginning of a single trans-peninsula dominant State controlling most of what we know today as Italy. The first part of that “unification” process occurred in early 1860 following the conclusion of Piedmonte’s and its allies’ France and less visiebly England’s war with Austria. A plebiscite was held which essentially created a “unified” or at least a singular political State in much of northern Italy. I would refer to this as the expanded State of Piedmonte-Sardinia under the control of the Savoyard regime and King Victor Emmanuel II. The plebiscite was designed to “legitimize” the consolidation of territory gained by Piedmonte in the war with Austria. Through the plebiscite the Italian peninsula was reduced to essentially four regional States. Those four States are the largely expanded State of Piedmonte-Sardinia, Veneto controlled by the Austrians, the Papal States of the center of the peninsula and the “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies” of the south.
Within weeks of the “northern 1860”plebiscite the Piedmonte regime with the carefully hidden aid and support of its allies France and England organized and launched a thinly veiled undeclared war against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The war against the southern Kingdom was launched by Piedmonte under the initial guise of a 1,000 man independent voluntary force of “redshirts” led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. The purported initial purpose of the expedition was to “aid” rebellious factions on the island of Sicily. However it is clear from the perspective of later historical review that Garibaldi was at all times an agent of the Savoys. At the conclusion of my last article I stopped at the May 6, 1860 launching from Genoa of that initial military thrust by Garibaldi by ship against the south.
What I propose over the course of the next year’s writing is to pick up where I left off with Garibaldi’s landing on Sicily. I will begin writing first about the dynamics of Garibaldi’s actual landing, an intriguing event in and of itself. From this successful landing I can then discuss the early phase of Garibaldi’s Sicilian campaign through to the capture of Palermo in June 1860. This was the beginning of the end of centuries of Bourbon/Spanish rule in the south of Italy and the conditions that gave rise to the desertion of the Sicilian Capital need to be understood in order to follow later southern Italian political events.
At that point in my writing I intend to briefly move off the topic of the Sicilian campaign and unification. The reason being that in July 1860 there is the death of one of San Fele’s most important 19th century native sons. While his death has nothing to do with the events unfolding in Italy it is important to acknowledge that in July of 1860 Bishop, missionary and Papal Nuncio Guistino Jacobis died on mission in Ethiopia. Therefore I will take the opportunity in my history to give a brief profile of St. Jacobis, his beliefs and his impact on Ethiopian missions. In fact Jocobis’ missionary work has had a major impact on Christian missions throughout the world. His inspiration and dedication to the people of Ethiopia contributed in turn to his eventual canonization in 1974 by Pope Paul.
I will then return in the narrative to discuss Garibaldi’s subsequent military campaign in Sicily through to its military conclusion. With that conclusion the establishment of Garibaldi’s “provisional” Sicilian government and its interaction with the Sicilian people.
The second phase of the southern military campaign, Garibaldi’s/ Piedmonte’s invasion of the mainland of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies then follows. This second phase is also an intriguing military and social campaign. History records that this campaign resulted in the astonishingly swift collapse of the Bourbon regime and victory to the Piedmonte forces. For Lucanians the second phase of the campaign represents the action which took place on the southern Italian mainland including actions that occurred in Lucania. Again it will give an opportunity to discuss the Lucanian perspective regarding the campaign. Garibaldi’s victory which followed the joining of his forces with Victor Emmanuel’s was followed in a matter of weeks with a southern plebiscite in 1861.
This plebiscite was held throughout the territory of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This Plebiscite recorded that 99.9% of the “people” of the south voted to politically join with Piedmonte forming the “Kingdom of Italy”.
The passage of that plebiscite was clearly the historic turning point in the creation of the modern State of Italy. As such Plebiscite deserves discussion in terms of how it arose, how it was conducted and how the merger of the two former Kingdoms was instituted and carried out.
The passage of the plebiscite and the implementation of the “unification had immediate impact on the people of San Fele and Lucania as a whole. In reality the plebiscite was a critical moment in time for the region, a turning point or as the title of this article implies an historic “fork in the road”. It is common that when a region is presented with a major political, social and economic change the path forward for the people generally presents at least two paths and sometimes three paths forward. In 1861 Lucania/San Fele, the people were presented with three choices in response to the unification.
First the people could accept the plebiscite results and the new “unified” government. Many southern Italians favored this course, especially at first. There was the new regime’s promise of greater constitutional rights, creation of an Italian identity and greater opportunity to become involved in the political process which was attractive to many.
Second people could resist the “unification” and political change. The Bourbon regime did have supporters and had been the legitimate government of southern Italy for centuries so some pockets of loyalty existed. In addition, the Savoy’s were regarded by some as just another foreign regime come to impose its will on the region. An age old distrust of “foreign” regimes was learned from millennia of conquerors and liberators. The only historic consistency was each new regime took a piece of what little was left.
The third alternative was to leave. But in all the centuries if not millennia of southern Italian history and culture, through the poverty, invasions and natural disasters leaving one’s home, family, land and culture had never been a psychological option.
Most of the readers of this site are Americans who have Lucanian/San Felese ancestry. As such it is not difficult to figure out which path forward our ancestors choose. The choice if not made immediately then eventually was implemented to an extent that was totally unprecedented. Unprecedented not only in Lucania but in the world. In San Fele, for example, today there are approximately 4,000 descendants of those 1860 ancestors in residence. In the United States, alone, there are between 60,000 and 80,000 descendants of those 1860 ancestors. To that number we could add the tens of thousands of descendants in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany as well. Because of this unprecedented response to unification it is very important to understand why our ancestors choose one critical path versus another. I hope over the next year to also shed some small amount of light on exactly that choice process.
I would like to begin the discussions regarding those times with a general observation concerning the 1860-1866 social structure in Lucania and how it both dramatically and subtly changed after the plebiscite. Politicians historically fail to remember that nations are not made up of governments but rather nations are made up of people to whom the government should be designed to serve. The 1861 Plebiscite created one government but made incredibly bad judgments when it came time to try to create one people. Lucania which for hundreds of years suffered extreme poverty and the disenfranchisement of the majority of its population, suffered decidedly greater disenfranchisement and poverty after the Plebiscite. The question to be asked is why.
Some may recall that in 2011 Italy celebrated its 150th anniversary as a nation, a celebration which played out with varying degrees of regional enthusiasm in Italy and in the Americas. Obviously, I did not reference a “birth of a nation” in my title or reference “unification” there either. That is because I have a very difficult time accepting that either true nationhood or unification occurred in the 1860-1866 time frame in Italy. Instead I believe that what occurred during that time frame was the economic, political, cultural and ethnic disenfranchisement of the majority of the people of southern Italy by the creation of concept that the Savoyard regime would come to call the “Mezzogiorno”.
The “creation” of the concept of Mezzogiorno in that 1860-1866 time period in my opinion is the single most important event in understanding Italy as it existed then and as it exists now. Further, it is the single most important event in understanding both the diaspora of millions of southern Italians and the unique assimilation of those people and their descendants around the globe. As such I believe Mezzogiorno is worth studying from the Lucanian perspective. First, it is not a name southern Italians called themselves, but rather one of many planted on them by non-southern Italians. Mezzogiorno is a term that was meant to make southern Italy distinct from not unified with the rest of Italy.
The term Mezzogiorno is one that is almost entirely absent from the narrative of my history. It has no place in the pre-1860 narrative which forms the basis for what I have written so far. In studying the origin of the term I understand that it didn’t exist prior to about 1800 and was not popularized as a term of reference in Italy until Garibaldi began to use it. Today the term is very frequently used to define, in many contextually variant ways, “the southern part of Italy”. I stress contextual use because depending on how and by whom it is used it can have exceedingly negative to warm and fuzzy meaning and use. Literally the term means “midday” or “noon” and has no specific regional application in and of itself.
Again when I research the “noon” reference it is explained that the southern part of Italy the Mezzogiorno is oppressively hot due to the heat of midday and the hot air which blows over from the African Sahara. Clearly a generalization, a stereotype and climate distinction which differentiates the Mezzogiorno from the rest of Italy. In the past and sometimes in the present it is a code word meant to draw attention to the southern Italy’s “closeness” to Africa. Indeed it meant to have a very subtle racial overtone. I will not bother to point out in detail that southern Italy has a wide range of climate variants depending on region.
When I referred in past writings to the south of Italy or southern Italians it is usually as a geographic reference meant to describe roughly the bottom third of the Italian peninsula and Sicily. In Italian this would be expressed as “Italia meridionale” or “il Meridione”.
Because of southern Italy’s geographic location it has been historically subject to or the recipient of exposure to the cultural and dynastic heritage of other ancient Mediterranean civilizations in particular those civilizations to its immediate east. This has been true for the better part of the past four thousand years. During that time the southern inhabitants of the peninsula have often taken those diverse influences and the region has acted as cultural incubator for the entire peninsula. When I have travelled in Italy the difference I note in the culture and heritage between the north and south of Italy is one of diversity. The many original Mediterranean cultural influences and traditions that make up the basis Italian culture are more readily available and preserved for view in the south. This is especially true of the contribution of ancient Greek culture, art and ethnicity. In the preservation of its monuments and traditions the people of the southern part of the peninsula embrace not only the roots of their Italian culture but celebrate their diversity of its ancient foundations with reverent respect.
Following the plebiscite of 1861 however, political expedience and dominance of “northern Italian politics often lent itself to a purposeful denigration of all things “southern” in Italy. Southern Italians became the people of the Mezzogiorno, the people close to Africa, even a separate race and foreign morality. The irony is that at the moment of the creation of one Italy, there was also created the de-unification of one people and the encouragement by political, economic, military and social means of a ”force” exodus and scattering of over 10 million southern Italian refugees across the globe.
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