Regional History Part 3 1700 to 1880 A.D.
BY: TOM FRASCELLA March. 2012
The restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy to the throne of Naples in 1816 did not result in improved political stability in Southern Italy. To explain this it is best to examine what was taking place in Europe in terms of political thought. Starting in the 17th and 18th century there arose in Europe an intellectual political movement advocating constitutional protection for individuals against “absolute” forms of government, including absolute Monarchies. Even where “constitutional” monarchies existed the movements sought greater protections for both individual and property rights. The movements were present in every nation in Europe but although these movements shared similar fundamental political thought they were not international by connection, rather they existed as independent regional movements. The movements primarily attracted intellectual “liberals”, with many members being of the middle or merchant class. The developing middle and merchant classes sought protection from having their goods and property either taxed or taken by the government without law or legal recourse. The movements were not “popular” in the sense of seeking or appealing to the masses. For the lower class which owned nothing the concepts and arguments held little practical appeal. Many of the members of these movements in addition to being landowners and business men were connected by also being Free Masons. Obviously our American Founding Fathers and their recorded political thoughts places them as fitting into this movement and indeed they represent the most successful regional group by outcome within the various international movements. Since the movements opposed the absolute power of governance they existed in their various countries as “anti status quo” groups. This made them subject to political persecution. As a result the movements generally were forced to be “secret” organizations which pushed a political agenda and endorsed change even by violent means. Many of the movements’ writings were published by secret presses and often were authored under penned names with the author’s individual identities kept secret.
Some such groups of the time existed as independent groups in each region of Italy and one very active group existed in the Kingdom of Naples. We have already discussed this group’s brief success in establishing the Republica Partenopea in 1799. While the southern Italian movement had some support from French revolutionaries, it lacked popular support among the lower class in the rural southern provinces. As we have discussed this lead to a counter movement to successfully restore the Bourbon Monarchy in 1800. The return of the Bourbon monarch to Naples after a brief retreat to Sicily resulted in a violent suppression of “liberals or Constitutionalists” in the south of Italy from 1800-1806.
One of the early “intellectual” supporters of the movement in southern Italy was Giovanni Baptiste De Jacobus of San Fele, the father of Guistino. The Jacobus family was a small land owner in the San Fele area. The family was best known for producing many local “intellectuals” in its history including well respected government administrators, educators and lawyers. Giovanni was able to avoid identification as a Liberal or Constitutionalist and escaped the Bourbon purge of the early 1800’s probably because of the relative isolation of San Fele. However, his later more apparent involvement in the “Liberal/Constitutional” cause demonstrates that the concern for civil rights had begun to reach even the isolated rural parts of Italy like San Fele.
When the French arrived during Napoleon’s military expansion, the Bourbon Monarch once again retreated to his safe haven in Sicily protected by the English fleet. Napoleon installed his brother Joseph as King of Naples in 1806, a position he held until 1808.During the short period of Joseph’s reign in Italy he did “liberalize” or impose certain limitations on the power of the Southern Italian Monarchy. However, with further military successes Napoleon obtained control of Spain and moved Joseph to Spain as King. He then placed Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother in law as King of Naples. Joachim was less inclined to extend the reforms started by Joseph until Napoleon’s fortunes began to turn. Murat realized that if he expected to hold on to power, against a return of the Bourbon King he needed Southern Italian support. As a result he reached out to the Liberal/Constitutionalists with promises of additional civil rights reform. He enticed some support among the then underground Liberal faction of the Kingdom. Ferdinand I realized this potential alliance could block his return and in Sicily he too began to court Siciy’s liberal faction starting civil reforms, including drafting a Constitution for Sicily in order to gain support for his political position.
As a result the Constitutional movement became a major player in the Southern Italian politics of the moment. As the movement’s leaders negotiated their support between the two political opponents the movement developed a name. The Southern Italian liberal/Constitutional movement became known as the “Carbonari” or “coal burners”. They were called for their propensity to meet in small groups or cells and discuss political strategies. Eventually, the name became associated with Constitutional movements in other parts of Italy as well as other European nations. Today Carbonari as a term is associated with the Liberal/Constitutional European movements of the 19th century and its international struggle for constitutional protections for the people
Seizing upon the Liberal movements momentum in the Kingdom of Naples, Giovanni Jacobus, a provincial Potenza government official at the time, in 1813 moved his wife and family to Naples from San Fele. It is believed that there he sought to promote the liberal reforms that King Murat had promised and was implementing. However in 1816 Ferdinand I regained the throne of Naples. While King Ferdinand was in Sicily he had also pledged to support the constitutionally established rights created by Murat. However once he had regained the throne of the Kingdom of Naples he quickly began to renege on some of his promises. He failed to draft a new Constitution or rein in some of the power of his government in the Kingdom of Naples and in 1816 he abolished the Sicilian Constitution he had previously adopted while in exile there. Giovanni De Jacobus was in 1816 still in Naples and now clearly associated with the Constitutional/Carbonari faction. He soon found under Ferdinand’s regime he was unable to acquire any government employment and the family’s fortune suffered greatly.
The period 1816-1820 was one of the coldest periods on record. It is believed that the cold stretch was caused by a series of volcanic eruptions worldwide. There were massive crop failures in the northern latitudes of both Europe and North America. Rising food costs together with the cold and effects of the Napoleonic Wars sent many immigrants from the northern latitudes searching for survival in warmer climates. Many from Germany, Northern France, England, Scotland and Ireland began immigrating to the U.S. to search out opportunities.
In 1818 Guistino De Jacobis the son of Giovanni entered into religious training in the Order of St. Vincent De Paul.
In 1820 Sicily revolted, Based upon Ferdinand’s voiding of the earlier Sicilian Constitution the movement became disgusted with Ferdinand’s failure to honor his pledge of Constitutional reform. Sicily sought Independence as the only secure option of obtaining civil rights protection. Several mainland Southern regions, including Potenza also began to revolt. Ferdinand found when he directed his army to crush the revolts that the Neapolitan army had many supporters of the Constitutionalists/Carbonari in its ranks. Among those supporters was their commander General Guglielmo Pepe. As a result in order to quell the revolt and restore order Ferdinand I was forced to sign a new Constitution in 1820 based upon the Constitution recently established in Spain.
The other regents of Europe and the Vatican became alarmed at the success of the Constitutionalists/Carbonari in Southern Italy. Under faint of attending a European summit Ferdinand I left Italy for Austria and upon leaving Southern Italy immediately declared the new Constitution null and void in 1821. He further was able to obtain the services of 60,000 Austrian troops to restore order and put down the rebellion including that within the Southern Italian army. The conflict escalated into armed resistance and saw the Southern Italian forces under General Pepe defeated by the Austrian troops at the battle of Rieti in March 1821. What then followed was a reign of terror and persecution of all known or assumed Constitutionalists/Carbonari. These attacks were backed up by the foreign Austrian troops.
The presence of this massive number of foreign troops created a situation in which the Southern Italian government injected occupation forces to suppress its own people. It also created a huge drain on the Treasury of the country. This was made all the more problematic as much of the pre Napoleonic Treasury had been looted by the French during their period of control. A financial solution presented itself to the Ferdinand’s regime in the form of the agricultural resources of Lucania. This rugged mountain region had always had large woodlands and an agriculture base that was primarily herding. Because of the crop failures of northern Europe, wheat was a high value cash crop of choice. The solution was to cut down the forests, sell the lumber, and plant wheat on the vast lands controlled by the wealthy absentee landlords and the Church. The implementation of this agricultural program was to have major consequences on Southern Italy and on the economics and culture of Lucania.
It should be noted that during this same period Guistino De Jacobus advanced rapidly in his theological studies and was ordained a priest in 1824. His intellectual strengths and talent for organization were well documented even as a young scholar. He was viewed by his superiors as both humble and charismatic cleric. After his ordination he had hoped to be assigned by his Order to the foreign missions. His superiors in the Order of St. Vincent De Paul however decided to further cultivate his talents with a series of assignments of progressive responsibility between the years1824-1837 in Southern Italy. Although Guistino’s father’s fortunes had waned due to political conflict at the time he had five sons who each became successful in their own right. Of Guistino’s four brothers one became a man of letters, one a lawyer and two brothers also became priests.
On a personal note Gaetano Frascella my great-grandfather thrice removed was born in 1820 in San Fele. He was the father of Vito and Gaetano Frascella who would be among the first san Felese to immigrate to Trenton in 1862. While Gaetano’s birth is of no great consequence to the events that were unfolding in Southern Italy, I wonder what life was like for him and the tens of thousands of other young people born of that time in Potenza. Gaetano’s life during this time in San Fele must have mirrored the lives of many of the inhabitants of the town and region especially those of middle class background. Gaetano’s began life at the exact period in Southern Italy’s past in which demand for civil rights and protections was very much a part of a massive current of change. In the first seven years of his life he would have witnessed the suppression of Constitutional/Carbonari advocates and the presence of foreign troops of suppression. Thereafter his entire life would have witnessed regional revolt, suppression, more revolt, unification, civil war and more suppression. As father to two sons his position in the community and his family guidance are what directed his sons in their immigration. His guidance and experiences laid the foundation for my family’s presence here in America. I mention this not because I think it unique but rather the common shared experiences that he faced with his regional neighbors lead to hundreds of thousands /millions to emigrate.
In 1825 after 66 years as King Ferdinand I died at the age of 74. He was succeeded by his son Francis I who became King at the age of 48. Francis I’s reign was brief lasting only five years until his death at the age of 53. As King Francis I generally adhered to the conservative policies of his father. During his reign the Neapolitan navy added some steam ships to its fleet and the first railroad extending from Naples to one of his palaces was built. He built up his own military forces sufficiently to allow him to withdraw the Austrian troops from Southern Italy in 1827. He faced one brief episode of revolt in Cilento in 1828 but was able to put down uprising successfully with his own soldiers and without foreign intervention.
Francis I was succeeded by his son Ferdinand II in 1830 age 20. This was the same year in which the Carbonari movement exploded in revolt all over central and northern Italy. Eventually with foreign support these revolts were struck down as well. Two developments during this period are of note. The first is the appearance of the tricolor flag and its association with the rebellion in 1830. It was first raised by the Carbonari in place of the Papal Flag in the Papal States of central Italy. The second is the appearance of a Northern Italian Carbonari leader and writer named Guiseppe Mazzini. Mazzini witnessed first hand the effect of intervention by foreign powers in support of the regimes in power in Italy in 1830. After seeing this he believed that continued resistance was destined to fail unless resistance became a popular mass revolt. Only the weight of support of the masses could defeat the suppression of the existing regimes which could rely on foreign armies when needed. Toward that end in his writings he called for a new broader based organization La giovine Italia (Young Italy) in 1831. The idea of a unified Italia, as the name implies, was something of a new political thought for a peninsula that thought in terms of region not of nation.
Tricolor Italian Flag
During this period, 1820 -1832 in Lucania the deforestation process begun under Ferdinand I began having an interesting and probably unintended effect. It was an effect however that had appeared twenty years before in Northern Italy when wheat farming was increased there. Both the activity of cutting down the forests and tilling the rocky mountainous soil in preparation for wheat production in Southern Italy are very labor intensive, actually more so than in the north. Rural Southern Italy responded in much the same way as rural Northern Italy had to this increased labor need. The rural Southern Italian population began to grow. The population increased by as much as 30% in the period 1820-1850. During this same period the urban population in the south remained relatively unchanged. So in the South the political period corresponding for the call to a Young Italia occurred at the same time as the Southern rural population was growing rapidly. However, most of the new farmland in the south was made from vast tracks that were owned by wealthy nobleman or the Church and farming was directed by absentee landlords living in other parts of the country. The actual farming was being conducted by local young “sharecroppers”. In exchange for their hard labor these people would get only a portion of the profits from the very difficult land to farm. As demand and production grew the increase required more and more people until the available land was all in production. At some point the small percentage of profit that the sharecroppers could salvage was insufficient to feed the labor required to produce it. In addition as the tillable land came under production there was no new land for the children and grandchildren of sharecroppers to farm. So in a relatively short time the numbers of young, under fed, desperately poor in the South began to grow.
By 1832 the basic conditions for a popular revolution in Southern Italy were beginning to all fall in place waiting for the right catalyst at the right time. Many histories focus of the increasing dire economic conditions prevalent in Italy after 1860 as the cause of the mass immigration to the U.S. However, the primary or initiating cause was political failure, systemic greed and lack of social mobility. This is why the U.S. viewed Italian immigrants up to 1880 as “political refugees”, not “economic refugees”.
After looking at the conditions in effect in Southern Italy from 1816 thru 1832 it is useful to then turn to look at what was taking place in the U.S. at the same time.
© San Felese Society of New Jersey