Italy Between 1860 and 1876


Taking advantage of a turn in the politics of Napoleon III, who now considers it politically harmful to forcibly repress the movement in Italy central, Cavour decides to annex the insurgent regions, which express through plebiscites their desire for union with the Kingdom of Sardinia (with the same procedure, Nice and Savoy are ceded in exchange to France). At the same time, the Mazzinian Action Party organized a military expedition led by G. Garibaldi in the South, starting from Sicily, secretly supported by Vittorio Emanuele II. Welcomed with enthusiasm by Sicilian peasants, who see him as a social ‘liberator’, Garibaldi can also count on the inefficiency of the Bourbon army (victory of Calatafimi and capture of Palermo). While Garibaldi lands in Calabria to triumphantly enter Naples (September 7, 1860), Cavour, worried that the prestige that came to the democrats from Garibaldi’s successes, calls into question the political-institutional structure of the future Italian state, which he intends should instead be configured as an enlargement territorial of the Sardinian one and its political and administrative structures, with the French support he has the Sardinian army occupy the Marches and Umbria. At the beginning of October Garibaldi obtained his greatest victory in the battle on the Volturno. The Piedmontese troops, led by the king (worried by the resumption of the most radical political currents), set off towards the South, while Cavour approved a law on the annexation of the liberated lands, which took place through the plebiscites of 21 October 1860. Garibaldi’s meeting with Vittorio Emanuele II in Teano (October 26) marks the transfer of power in the southern regions to the Piedmontese authorities. On 4 November, plebiscites are held for the annexation of the Marches and Umbria. On 17 March 1861 the first national Parliament proclaimed Vittorio Emanuele II king of Italy in Turin. Cavour and the moderate liberals thus won their battle over the Action Party.


According to, the problems facing the new unitary state are enormous. The first is administrative unification, through a process of homogenization of laws and civil and military apparatuses. Secondly, it is necessary to develop a development policy that takes into account the socio-economic differences between the different regions and the overall backwardness of the entire nation compared to the more advanced ones in Europe. Thirdly, a firm direction must be given to a country traversed by political and social tensions. After Cavour’s death (June 6, 1861), the main concern of his political heirs – who form the right, later called ‘historical’, of the parliamentary line – is to build a reliable and efficient political and administrative control apparatus:

Cavour is succeeded by B. Ricasoli (June 1861-March 1862), who unsuccessfully continues the contacts initiated by Cavour with Pius IX to induce him to renounce temporal power and to accept a regime of separation between State and Church. The new government of U. Rattazzi (March-December 1862) plans to exploit Garibaldi’s initiative towards Veneto and Rome without directly compromising the State. But this line turns out to be impracticable and leads to a clash between the Savoy army and the Garibaldians in Calabria, on the Aspromonte. The reaction of public opinion is such as to induce Rattazzi to resign. After a brief Farini ministry, the new head of government, M. Minghetti (March 1863-September 1864), negotiates the so-called ‘September convention’ with France, on the basis of which Italy it undertakes to defend the Papal State from any external attack; France, for its part, guarantees the withdrawal of its troops placed in defense of the pope within two years. As a sign of the Italian renunciation of any claim to Rome, Napoleon III asked that the capital be fixed in another city. Under the government of General A. La Marmora (September 1864-June 1866) the capital was transferred to Florence.

The military alliance against Austria offered by Prussia during the Minghetti government starts in June with the start of hostilities. The war, while marking the triumph of the Prussians, proves to be a disaster for the Italian army and fleet which suffer the defeats of Custoza and Lissa. After the war thanks to the Prussian victories, Austria ceded the Veneto to Italy but, as already in 1859, through France, to humiliate a country that has won thanks to the weapons of others. The liberation of Rome became possible with the fall of Napoleon III following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 (20 September, breach of Porta Pia). The pope’s attitude of closure places the Italian government in the need to unilaterally define relations with the Church, with the law of guarantees (1871), not recognized by the counterpart,

Among the national problems, the question of banditry, an expression of the revolt of the poor peasants of the South, exploited by the Bourbon legitimists and the clericals, is tackled with very harsh military methods. In 1863 the repression work involved about 120,000 soldiers, half of the whole army; among the rebels there are thousands of deaths. The fight against banditry, at least as a mass phenomenon, can be considered closed in 1865. However, the revolts among the southern peasants did not cease, whose aversion towards the state grew as a result of compulsory conscription and fiscal tightening. Furthermore, the liquidation of ecclesiastical lands and state property confiscated by the new state, rather than favoring the formation of a stratum of small and medium-sized farmers, it ends up strengthening the economic power and the political and social influence of the large landowner. By 1865 the customs, monetary, financial and administrative unification was completed. It is actually an extension to the entire country of the legislation and regulations of the Sardinian Kingdom.

As far as economic policy is concerned, the Right adheres to strictly liberal criteria. The greatest concern is that of the consolidation of the budget deficit and the reduction of the public debt, which are addressed through the use of a very strong fiscal pressure, largely indirect and therefore particularly burdensome for the popular masses. Significant of this policy is the ground tax, introduced in 1868, which affects a product on which the very survival of the poorest strata depends and which gives rise to protests and riots. The effects of the fiscal tightening are, in strictly financial terms, positive: in 1876 the budget was balanced.

Italy Between 1860 and 1876