The Revolutions of 1848 101: The Italian States

Foreword

The revolutions of 1848 are a separate chapter in the study of modern and contemporary European history. The “Springtime of the Peoples,” as they are called by some historians, played a decisive role in the development of the historical events of the 19th century, the 20th century, and also the present. This is the main reason why this 101 series of articles, dedicated to these revolutions, came into being. Specifically, reference will be made to the cases of many European countries and regions, such as France, the German States, the Italian States, Denmark, the territories of the Habsburg Empire, Sweden, Poland, and so on.


The Revolutions of 1848 series consist of nine main articles:


After analysing the causes and the origins of the revolutions of 1848 (Link to Introduction I here and to Introduction II here), the events of the revolutions themselves will now be narrated. The structure of the narrative will consist mainly of three parts: the outbreak of the revolution, the demands of the revolutionaries, and the outcome of the revolution. The first revolution to be described is that of the Italian states, not because it was the most important, but because it was the first to have occurred. This revolution took place in January 1848 and was led by intellectuals and agitators. The Italian revolutionaries were mainly inspired by liberal ideas. The revolution, however, was purely national. Revolts broke out mainly in northern Italy against the Austrians, but there were also revolutionary outbreaks in southern Italy and Sicily. Their goal was to unify the entire Italian peninsula into a single Italian state.

About 1849 by Antonio Muzzi (1815-1894).
Clashes between rebels and Austrians in Bologna (1).

Outbreak

After some liberal reforms that occurred in Rome, the people of other Italian states started to demand similar treatment. It all started on 12 January in Sicily, where the people began to demand a provisional government, separate from the government of the mainland, as the territory of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies extended to Sicily and southern Italy. King Ferdinand II tried to resist these demands, however, a full-fledged revolt erupted in Sicily, Salerno, and Naples. These revolts drove Ferdinand and his men out of Sicily as his piecemeal reforms proved inadequate to satisfy the revolutionaries, both noble and bourgeois, who were determined to have a new and more liberal constitution. So, they forced him to allow a provisional government to be constituted and Ferdinand II was the first to grant a constitution. In contrast to the events in Rome and Naples, other Italian states were still under conservative rule. In the north, Italians could not enjoy these freedoms and the Austrian Empire of this region oppressed them with harsher taxes. The action of tax gatherers was supported by a strong army. These revolts in Sicily boosted the revolts in the northern Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia. Revolutions in the Lombardy city of Milan forced the Austrians out of the city, but they were able to keep the Quadrilateral fortresses of Verona, Peschiera, Legnano, and Mantua. Meanwhile, the Italian insurgents were encouraged when news of Prince Metternich abdicating in Vienna spread out but were unable to completely eradicate the Austrian troops. Also, by this time Charles Albert, King of Piedmont and Sardinia, had published a liberal constitution for Piedmont and then stopped the counterattack of the Austrians in the Quadrilateral. He was aided by several troops from neighbouring Italian kingdoms. At that crucial point, Pope Pius IX became nervous about defeating the Austrian Empire and withdrew his troops, citing that he could not endorse a war between two Catholic nations. King Ferdinand also called his soldiers back. A year later, Charles Albert launched another attack, but due to the lack of troops, he was defeated (Robertson, 1952) (1).


Sometime in 19th century.
Sicilian Uprising (1848-1849) in Palermo (2).

Demands

The demands of the Italian revolutionaries were clearly influenced by nationalism and liberalism. The Italian intellectuals and agitators led the revolution and desired a liberal government for a unified Italy. As Italian nationalists, they sought to eliminate the Austrian control. During this period of 1848, Italy was not a unified country but divided into many states; the states in northern Italy were ruled by the Austrian Empire. A desire to be independent of foreign rule and the conservative leadership of the Austrians led Italian revolutionaries to stage a revolution in order to drive them out. At first, the people of Sicily demanded a separate provisional government from those of southern Italy, because the Sicilian separatism had spread throughout the island. The Italians in the northern peninsula were demanding fewer and lower taxes from the Austrians and the people of Piedmont wanted Charles Albert to grant a liberal constitution. He, then, followed the wider effervescent state and declared war on Austria, as he wanted to seize the initiative to lead of a republican and democratic insurgency (Britannica, 2021) (2).


Tower Museum of San Martino della Battaglia. Detail of the fresco depicting the fighting of June 27, 1849 at Fort Sant’Antonio in Venice.
A scene from the battle of San Antonio in Venice (3).

Outcome and Aftermath

Pope Pius IX had abandoned the war against the Austrians and because of that, the people of Rome rebelled against his government. Pope Pius then fled to King Ferdinand II for protection. In February 1849, Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, also abandoned the revolution because of another insurrection. Piedmont was lost to the Austrians. Charles Albert left his son, Victor Emanuel, the future King of a united Italy since the 6th century, as Victor Emmanuel II, to rule. In Rome, a short-lived Roman Republic was proclaimed by Garibaldi and Mazzini. The Republic succeeded in inspiring the people to build an independent Italian nation, giving freedom to the press, passing popular legislation to eliminate burdensome taxes, giving work to the unemployed, making prison and insane asylum reforms, and providing secular education. Unfortunately, the reforms brought financial problems to the Republic. In addition, sending troops to defend the Piedmont from Austrian forces put Rome at risk of attack from Austria. Pope Pius appealed to France for help and the French army, with the help of the Austrians, defeated the Roman Republic and Pope Pius IX was escorted back to Rome. The return of the sovereigns rapidly set about abrogating constitutions, disbanding parliaments, and, especially in the south, filling the prisons (Smith, 1996) (3).


The revolution of 1848 in the Italian states may have been a military failure, but in terms of principles and ideas, it will be described as a successful one. The revolution in Italy was only the first spark of the fire of revolutions that would spread throughout Europe. This fire was to be greatly intensified by the French Revolution of February 1848 (this revolution will be considered in the next article of this 101 series), which was successful both politically and militarily. The Italians did not gain their own independent Italian state, but they fully embraced the principles of liberalism and nationalism. Italian unification and independence was soon to happen and was gradually completed by 1871.




Image Sources

  1. Muzzi, A. (1849 ca.). La cacciata degli austriaci da Porta Galleria l’8 agosto 1848 [Painting]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cacciata_degli_austriaci_da_Bologna_(1848).jpg

  2. La rivolta di Palermo [Painting]. (19th century). Retrieved from: http://grial4.usal.es/MIH/1848inItaly/resource2.html

  3. Bressanin, V. E. (1880-1893). A scene from the battle of San Antonio in Venice [Painting]. Tower Museum of San Martino della Battaglia. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Museo_Torre_di_San_Martino_della_Battaglia_-_affresco_05.jpg

References

  1. Robertson, P. (1952). Revolutions of 1848: A Social History. pp. 311-401.

  2. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, December 22). The Revolutions of 1848. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Italy/The-Revolutions-of-1848

  3. Smith, D. M. (1996). Mazzini. pp. 49-76.

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Miltos Spiratos

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