Strengths and Weaknesses of Italian Nationalism Essay

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Italian Nationalism

In the mid-nineteenth century, Italy had faced a great number of obstacles that would have impeded a united Italy, but for the movement of the leaders and the fighters who banded together under the same ideal. Prior to the beginning of the nineteenth century, Italy itself was split into many states and kingdoms, in accordance to the different ethnic peoples of the country. Through the political activism engaged by such celebrated names as Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, Pallavicino and Victor Emmanuel II, and the people's enthusiasm to see their kingdoms united, Italian nationalism was not just a dream shared by many. In all respects, Italian nationalism also became a reality.

The Leaders of Italian Unification

Of the proponents regarding Italian unification, perhaps one of the most vocal of the group would be revolutionary activist Giuseppe Mazzini. As many nationalists believed, the strength of a nation came not from the individual powers of states, but from the unification of a people with a common idea. Mazzini was a firm proponent of this belief, having stated that to resolve the "question of nationality," one had to "[remake] the map of Europe" ("On Nationality"). In-so-doing, he brought the public's attention towards the rest of Europe, where the German-speaking peoples of Poland, Germany, Austria and Hungary continued to fight wars that could have been avoided had the nations banded together within one form of government. A strong kingdom, Mazzini stated, could only be realized through the principles of people with the same ideas standing together, having stated that "before acting, the instrument for action must be organized; before building, the ground must be one's own" ("On Nationality").

Mazzini's beliefs rang similarly to that of the political standpoint of some of his celebrated peers. Meanwhile, Italian war hero Giuseppe Garibaldi also believed in the same nationalistic Italy, the people unified under one state. Garibaldi was a man of action and militaristic standing, however. His goals had led him to a more direct activity than that of Mazzini. Their beliefs were not altogether identical, in fact. Mazzini believed in the unification through the use of subversion, of the education of a "[republican and Unitarian] Young Italy," of revolutionaries taking a stand in the name of progress and education for a better nation ("Liberty"). Garibaldi, on the other hand, found that in order for Italy to be united under one form of government, he needed to bring the states together under one leadership. Garibaldi hoped that by conquering the kings of the cities, he would be able to unite the people and to his cause, strengthening Italy.

Garibaldi's method of unification may have proved dictatorial for many of his contemporaries, though this did not stop the Risorgimento that he led during the time period. In Palermo, however, we see that Garibaldi and his Thousand come out victorious, paving a road towards his goal of unification. During negotiations set by the Bourbon army, Garibaldi had vehemently argued against Palermo's "formal declaration of respectful obeisance to the Bourbon King Francis II" ("Palermo"). Instead, he argued for the sake of the people he sought to unite, and that bowing to a Bourbon king would take his cause further in the opposite direction. The accounts of Garibaldi's Thousand have proven that his leadership was one that boosted the morale of his troops. Soldier Giuseppe Bandi had sailed with Garibaldi to Sicily in the invasion of 1860. In Bandi's accounts, Garibaldi was the beacon of liberty, having "made himself [liberty's] paladin (Document 17). To the Thousand, Garibaldi's methodology was an honorable attempt at uniting Italy.

This did not stop some of the leaders of unified Italy from distrusting Garibaldi, however. In fact, Count Camilio Cavour, a constitutional founder of the Kingdom of Italy, mistrusted the actions of Garibaldi and his Thousand. In various letters to leaders of Italy's southern kingdoms, Cavour had sought to advise them against supporting "[Garibaldi] openly" and "[encouraging] private efforts on his behalf" (Document 18). Among Cavour's staunch supporters were Giorgio Pallavicino and Victor Emmanuel II. Pallavicino had fought against the ideas of Garibaldi; like Cavour, he believed that Garibaldi was too much of a dictator, and would take the power away from a king who would justly rule a united Italy. Emmanuel became the King of Piedmont, Savoy, and Sardinia until 1861, and was subsequently appointed King of Italy after the creation of the united country.

Cavour's worries of a weakened Italy had been further agitated when Garibaldi marched victorious into the Kingdom of Naples. With Garibaldi's victories and initial refusal to relinquish power, Victor Emmanuel's power would have diminished, so much so that unless the king himself joined up with Garibaldi, there would be no hope of a united Italy. This fear, however, had not proceeded to an extreme. At a meeting between Emmanuel and Garibaldi, Farini had described what looked to be Garibaldi's acknowledgement of the "true" King of Italy:

Garibaldi went forward at the head of several hundred of his red-shirted men, and shouted, 'Long live the King of Italy'. Then there was a chorus of 'Viva', and the king affectionately took the hand of the legendary hero. We all rode together to Teano, Garibaldi on the left of the king, the rest of us…all mixed up with the red shirts on horse-back, Lombards, Venetians, Englishmen, Piedmontese, Genoese, Romagnoli (Document 20).

2. The People of Italian Unification

The leaders were certainly proponents of a united Italy, albeit their differing notions of the method in realizing this dream. The people, however, reveled in such an undertaking, supporting the idea wholly. Throughout Garibaldi's march with his Thousand, it was evident that the people were just as vocal about Italy's unification; the accounts given by both Garibaldi and Giuseppe Cesare Abba, one of Garibaldi's Thousand, detailed the work of the Italian citizens and the volunteered soldiers on their way from Palermo and towards Sicily and Naples.

Garibaldi's accounts of the Assault on Palermo showed the love of the people towards his ideals. While the Bourbons bombarded the inhabitants of Palermo, the overall atmosphere of the city at Garibaldi's arrival was one of fierce triumph. According to Garibaldi, "[the] local women were awe-inspiring in their patriotic fervor. Amidst the chaos of bombs and rifle-fire they cheered and applauded and waved us on" ("Palermo"). Garibaldi spoke to the people of Palermo, telling them that he had rejected the proposal of a Bourbon kingship. This action in itself riled the people up to his cause, and "a roar of indignation and approval rose up unanimously from the noble-hearted crowd" ("Palermo").

Soldiers and citizens threw themselves into decision-making and activity…Women of every class went down into the streets to urge on the workers and the soldiers. The English and American officers from the ships in the port gave us their revolvers and hunting guns. Some of the Sardinian officers were also sympathetic to our cause… ("Assault on Palermo")

In Garibaldi's accounts, he even went so far as having indicated that the people had taken it upon themselves to spring to action.

Abba's accounts also displayed the reaction of the people regarding the goal of a united Italy. However, there is a distinct difference in the narration and the points-of-view. While, generally, there appears to be an overall sense of Italian nationalism within the people, it had become apparent that not everyone came to support Garibaldi's march to Sicily. Throughout Abba's journey as a soldier of the Thousand, he found that for those who fervently supported Garibaldi's cause, there were others who protested against it. And then there were those who found that the method Garibaldi proposed as uncouth and needless.

A few of the men Abba encountered on his trip to Sicily had showcased a mixture of awe of Garibaldi's Thousand and contempt at the soldiers and their plans to conquer the Kingdom of Naples. One man had even gone so much as to ask Abba "[but] whatever has the King of Naples done to you, who don't know him, that must go to war with him? Brigands, that's what you are!" (Abba, Pg. 6). Of course, the account later retold the fact that amidst this protestation, members of the same family had taken up the war effort, sons of disapproving fathers having enlisted as the military arrived at their ports.

"Passing through the city of Parma, people came up and shook our hands and heartily wished us well" (Abba, Pg. 2). The people's regard for the warring soldiers out on their journey was at its peak here, having just won a grand victory at Palermo. Garibaldi's plan, however, was never as minuscule as preventing the Bourbons from invasion. Italy's unification would come at a price of invasion, and Garibaldi moved his Thousand further south, his intent on conquering Naples and Sicily. Abba's accounts further took the reader south, encountering farmers with just as much conviction about unification as the soldiers who volunteered.

He spoke out so well, I could have embraced him. A poor fellow from the provinces who…[continue]

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