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Giuseppe Garibaldi and Italian Unification

Sean McCroskey AP European History February 15, 2011

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Europe was a tumultuous place during the mid-nineteenth century. During this time, Europe was almost constantly in conflict. In the midst of this fray, Italy, which at this time was divided into many different duchies and kingdoms, became a unified state for the first time since the Romans. Central to this cause was Giuseppe Garibaldi, a visionary who dreamed of a united Italy. Born on July 4, 1807, Guiseppe Garibaldi was the son a poor sailor from the Italian province of Nice. Garibaldis ceaseless dedication was what made Italys bid for unity in the nineteenth century possible. Specifically, Giuseppe Garibaldis beliefs, daring exploits, and iconic partnership with the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont were the cocktail of reasons why Italian unification became a reality in the 1860s. The events during Garibaldis early revolutionary career came to define and shape his future political views. He was influenced by the radical teachings of Young Italys founder, Giuseppe Mazzini, a fellow revolutionary. Mazzinis influence and ideas were most prevalent during the 1830s and 1840s when he formed Young Italy, a revolutionary society that Garibaldi joined in 1833. During this period, Mazzini and his organization struggled unsuccessfully to remove Metternich and the Austrians from Italy.i Mazzini and his followers wanted a democratic republic centered on universal male suffrage and the general will of the people.ii These idealistic beliefs were at one point shared with over 60,000 Young Italy members who faced defeat after defeat to both the ultra conservative Metternich and even the government of Sardinia-Piedmont.iii Early in his career, Garibaldi helped to fight for these ideals alongside Mazzini and, as a result, Garibaldi was arrested and forced to leave Italy.iv Although initially supporting Mazzinis idea for a republic, upon his return to Italy from exile, Garibaldis views on the matter changed. He came to support the idea of a liberal constitutional monarchy such as he had seen in London during his exile.v This idea of constitutional monarchy was acceptable to

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Garibaldi as long as the people embraced it as they did in England. When Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia-Piedmont came to the throne and granted a liberal constitution to his state in 1849, Garibaldi was filled with new hope.vi He became animated in his support of Victor Emmanuel because he felt that Emmanuel stood for everything that Garibaldi dreamed of for his country and because he was in the perfect position to Unify Italy. Emmanuel was viewed as a progressive leader by his own and other people in Europe and was very closely aligned with Garibaldis personal beliefs. For this reason, Garibaldi joined his cause and helped to crown Emmanuel as Victor Emmanuel I of Italy. Garibaldis actions as a military figure during the second war for Italian independence in 1859 created an almost god-like persona around him. They included his victories at Varese and Como, as well as his bitter defeat at Laveno. These battles came about because of Cavours ambitious plan to expel the Austrians from Lombardy. Supported by the French, in return for the Italian provinces of Savoy and Nice, Sardinia-Piedmont entered into the war with Austria with a combined total of over 100,000 thousand French and Italian troops.vii The decisive battles of the war came at Montebello and at Magenta and were not of Garibaldis doing. Garibaldi, who fought far to the north in Lombardy, was given only a volunteer army of 3,000 men, not even an official regiment of the army.viii This small but dedicated band of troops, nicknamed Cacciatori delle Alpi, or the Hunters of the Alps, entered into Lombardy with the singular and express purpose of causing disorganization to the Austrian army.ix If this ragtag group of soldiers never fought in a single major battle during this war, then why did they achieve so much acclaim under Garibaldis leadership? It might have been the stirring wartime speeches he gave before battles. Or perhaps it was the chanting of Garibaldis Hymn throughout the streets of conquered Lombardy. Either way, these rather insignificant battles were beloved of the people and made

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him the savior of Italy. Garibaldis fame and indeed his legend from this war became so great that it was actually detrimental toward creating a positive image around Victor Emmanuel.x officer of Garibaldis sums up Cavours fears, The Government are frightened to death of Garibaldi They are afraid... that they will distract attention from the Piedmontese Army and diminish its importance.xi Cavours fear that Garibaldis success would obscure the victories of the main army were not, perhaps, unfounded. Garibaldi's meager victories attracted disproportionately large support over and over again. Garibaldis actions in this war, minor as they were on the battlefield, created the base of support for Victor Emmanuel that turned the central duchies of Parma and Magenta straight into the open arms of Sardinia Piedmont.xii Popular support for this war was everything, and in this, Garibaldi won every major battle. When Napoleon III, ended the war prematurely without the consent of Cavour, SardiniaPiedmont was actually put in an advantageous position. Napoleon signed a treaty stating that the Austrians would cede Lombardy to France who then cede it to Sardinia.xiii This began the unification of Italy. By ceding Savoy and Nice, provinces in the northeastern area of Italy, to France, Napoleon III agreed to reenter the war alongside Sardinia. Previously, Garibaldi had only had a limited influence from a military stand point. After Cavour authorized the cessation of Garibaldis homeland to France, however, he seemed bent on proving he had more to offer than his name. On May 9, 1860, Garibaldi and Il Mille, the thousand, boarded the Piedmontese steamers, Lombardo and Piemonte and sailed toward the Island of Sicily completely without the sponsorship of their government.xiv Garibaldi and his thousand volunteers landed in Marsala and marched onward, determined to show their might and liberate Sicily. It was at Calatafimi that the horribly outmanned Sardinian force won the first major conflict of the campaigns of 1860. An

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Despite the obvious disadvantages of being outgunned and undisciplined, Garibaldis force actually held the advantage due to the ineptitude of the Neapolitan officers.xv The simple but crafty guerilla tactics that Garibaldi often used to compensate for his meager numbers bewildered and outmatched Ferdinand IIs inadequate forces on many occasions. Again at Milazzo, Garibaldi forced a Neapolitan retreat until the enemy was thoroughly trapped inside their own defenses. Due to this widely publicized victory, Garibaldi was able to generate further support for his cause. In addition, these victories began to seriously worry both Ferdinand and even Napoleon III, who feared that he would march on Rome. With these reinforcements, Garibaldi marched onward to the mainland. He conquered the city of Naples as well as Calabria, gaining steam as he began to work his way toward the French controlled Rome, just as Napoleon III feared. On the way, he faced his most difficult battle yet. The defensive battle at the Volturno River was Garibaldis shining moment. Swelled by soldiers and recruits from the freed Sicilians, Garibaldis 20,000-man army defeated the 30,000 strong Bourbon force on October 1, 1860.xvi This battle sealed Garibaldis uncontested control of the Southern territories. This marked the coming of the end of his heroic campaign. These military victories not only freed much of Italy from either oppressive or foreign rule, but also actively generated support for Emmanuel, who was seen as the father of the great liberator Garibaldi. When Garibaldi turned over the southern lands to Cavour and Emmanuel, the populace of the south rejoiced at the good news. The symbolic moment when Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel rode side by side together as victors was a result of the tenuous yet powerful alliance between Garibaldi and SardiniaPiedmont. Garibaldis cooperation was based on his belief that a liberal state would be best for Italy. One reason for Garibaldis support of Sardinia-Piedmont was Victor Emmanuels history

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of being responsive to the demands of his people. After the end of a conflict with Austria in 1848, Emmanuel was forced to choose between terminating the liberal constitution of his country to increase his land or forfeiting large areas to Austria in order to keep the liberal constitution put in place by his father, Charles Albert.xvii When Emmanuel decided on the later, he showed his support for the nationalist cause and made himself the rallying cry for Italian unity because he responded to public opinion. Victor Emmanuel then appointed Count Camillo Benso di Cavour to his cabinet in 1850. Two years later, in 1852, he became Prime minister. Cavour was as skilled a diplomat as he was passionate for his country. This combination made him the ideal middleman between Garibaldi and Emmanuel. Even though he too longed to unify his homeland, Cavour believed that Garibaldi was too reckless to give a formal regiment to. Cavour used him and his reputation as propaganda to recruit and to turn public opinion in favor of the campaigns. Garibaldi graciously accepted this role, realizing the positive effect this would have. However, when Cavour ceded Nice to France in 1860, it pushed Garibaldi beyond the point of simply condemning Cavour, which he did with gusto. Garibaldis renegade foray into Sicily and the mainland as a result, almost dismantled the entire effort despite that fact that it succeeded. If Garibaldi had managed to capture and sack Rome as he wished, formally overthrowing the Pope, it would have turned all of Europe down on Sardinia-Piedmont and he would have undone all that he had worked for.xviii Cavour played the role of a moderator for Garibaldi, sending him telegrams apologizing and begging him to stop. When that didnt work, Cavour stepped in and marched into Rome before Garibaldi could, forcibly preventing further rash action by Garibaldi. Many speculated that now once Cavour had stopped Garibaldi, he would then have to fight him for the south all over again. After all, during his march, Garibaldi would claim each area he won in the name of Garibaldi the Dictator.xix However, when the time came to finally meet with

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Cavour, Garibaldi did in fact, proudly cede all his holdings over to Cavour and Victor Emmanuel. Despite his hour off darkness when he almost crumbled Italys hopes, this hero found himself once again and remained true to his purpose. For Garibaldi, the reward of a unified Italy outweighed even the cost of his homeland. The unification of Italy was finally and formally attained in March of 1861.xx For Garibaldi, this goal was all that mattered, not the journey, not the how, not when. He believed it would happen and he was determined to be the one to make it so. It was the combination of his unwavering and logical support of Sardinias liberal government coupled with his endearing patriotism and potent military aptitude that forced the Austrians and French out of Italy. Despite the fact that even he wavered at times, Garibaldi was able to refocus himself and trudge onward toward his goal. The triple threat of his military talent, determination, and popularity was the potent combination of traits that made Garibaldi the decisive factor in Italys bid for national unity.


Giuseppe Mazzini, ABC-Clio World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO Schools

Subscription Web Sites, 2011, The Bishop's School Lib., La Jolla, CA, January 23, 2011, <http://worldhistory.abc-clio.com> 1 of 2.

Mickay, John P. et al. A History of Western Society. United States of America: Houghton

Mifflin Company, 2008.


Charles Albert, ABC-Clio World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO Schools

Subscription Web Sites, 2011, The Bishop's School Lib., La Jolla, CA, January 24, 2011, <http://worldhistory.abc-clio.com> 1 of 2.

Christopher Hibbert, Garibaldi and His Enemies (United States of America: Little,

Brown and Company, 1965) 119.


Christopher Hibbert 124. Victor Emmanuel II, ABC-Clio World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO Schools


Subscription Web Sites, 2011, The Bishop's School Lib., La Jolla, CA, January 24, 2011, <http://worldhistory.abc-clio.com> 1of 2.

Robert Avery, The Second War of Independence, The Victorian Web, November 18,

2004, January 30, 2011, <www.victorianweb.org/history> 1 of 3.


Robert Avery 2 of 3. Christopher Hibbert 148. Christopher Hibbert 149. Christopher Hibbert 150. Robert Avery 2 of 3.





Robert Avery 3 of 3. Christopher Hibbert 203. Robert Avery 1 of 3. Christopher Hibbert 296. Victor Emmanuel II 1 of 2.






Giuseppe Garibaldi, ABC-Clio World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO Schools Subscription Web Sites, 2011, The Bishop's School Lib., La Jolla, CA, January 24, 2011, <http://worldhistory.abc-clio.com> 2 of 2.

Christopher Hibbert 208. Victor Emmanuel II 2 of 2.


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