We know that Italy was divided into many small provinces in 1815 as per the decision taken in the Congress of Vienna, and thus, the national unity of this country was undone by the diplomats of the Congress.
The provinces of Lombardy and Venetia were annexed to the Austrian Empire to compensate for the loss of Belgium which was given to Holland. The rulers of the province of Parma, Modena, Tuscany were related to the King of Austria.
Thus, most of the Italian provinces were brought under the direct influence of Austria. Besides, the kingdom of Naples was established in the south and the independent kingdom of Piedmont including Sardinia lay in the north. In the centre were the dominions of the Pope.
The people of the Italian provinces were not satisfied with the above decisions. Consequently, the movement for the establishment of national unity was started 6y the patriots of Italy just after the Congress of Vienna, but they could not achieve any success.
As most of the provinces of Italy were under the direct control of Austria, and Chancellor Metternich was a great reactionary of his age, no progress could be made in this field.
Revolutions which had erupted as a consequence of the July Revolution of 1830 were also crushed by Metternich. But the national spirit of the patriots could not be suppressed for ever.
In 1848, Cardinal Mostai Ferretti occupied the Papal throne of Rome. He was a liberal ruler. He was against the influence of Austria over the Italian provinces. In his dominions, Pope ordered his governors to hold the elections to the legislative councils.
On the basis of the lists of the elected persons sent by the governors of the Papal provinces, Pope selected some persons and constituted a council of ministers. He framed a liberal constitution applicable to the whole of his dominion.
Restrictions were removed from the press, speech and meetings, and the political prisoners were released.
The people and the rulers of other provinces of Italy were greatly affected by the liberalism of Pope. Liberal constitutions were declared in the provinces of Naples, Piedmont, Modena, Tuscany etc.
In short, it may be said that before the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848, liberal government had been established in the provinces of Italy excepting those which were under the direct control of Austria.
Owing to the repressive policy of Metternich, the people of these provinces were greatly distressed and they were waiting for an opportunity to revolt against the reactionism of Austria.
As soon as the patriots of the Italian provinces heard of the news of the fall of Metternich, they were delighted and revolted against their rulers. Lombardy and Venetia, ruled since 1815 by the House of Hapsburg, rose against the hated Austria.
First of all, the people of the province of Lombardy revolted at Milan. A fierce battle was fought between the people and the Austrian army in which the army was defeated. Heartened by the success of the revolutionaries of Lombardy, the people of the provinces of Venice, Parma, Modena, Tuscany also revolted against their cruel rulers.
Charles Albert, the king of Piedmont, declared himself as the leader of the revolution and sent military help to the revolutionaries. The province of Venice under the inspiring leadership of Daniel Manin restored the republic.
Leopold, the ruler of Naples, supported the revolt of the province of Tuscany. In this way, the provinces of Lombardy, Venetia, Tuscany, Modena, Parma threw off the yoke of slavery of Austria with the active help of the rulers of Naples and Piedmont.
It seemed that the whole of Italy would be united very soon into a great nation. Meanwhile, the patriots of Italy were trying for the unification of Italy under the leadership of Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour.
Mazzini established an institution named ‘Young Italy’. The branches of this institution were opened throughout the country. Mazzini taught the young men of Italy to be united and inspired them to work for the national unification.
Garibaldi was a sailor and a brave man. He gave military training to the people and thus strengthened the military power of Piedmont. Cavour was the prime minister of Piedmont.
He was of the opinion that the unification of Italy was quite impossible without declaring war against Austria.
So, he advised Charles Albert to declare war. Leopold, the king of Naples, assured Albert of assistance in the war against Austria. Assurance of cooperation was also given by the Pope.
Being assured of help by the liberal governments of the Italian provinces, Charles Albert declared war against Austria. It seemed as if the revolution would be successful in Italy, but it could not be so due to the disunity of the rulers. First of all, the Pope called back his army.
The rulers of Naples and Tuscany also followed in the footsteps of the Pope and withdrew their armies. Thus, Charles Albert was isolated in the war.
Consequently, he was badly defeated at Custozza on July 25, 1848. At Novara, the army of Piedmont-Sardinia was utterly routed on March 23, 1849.
After being defeated in the battle, Charles Albert abdicated the throne of Piedmont in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel II. After some time Charles died. He tried his best to draw away Italy from the influence of Austria. C. D. Hazen has rightly remarked:
“He had rendered, however, a great service to his house and to Italy; for he had shown that there was one Italian prince who was willing to risk everything for the national cause.
He had enlisted the interest and the faith of the Italians in the government of Piedmont, in the House of Savoy. He was looked upon as a martyr to the national cause.”
After becoming the king of Piedmont, Victor Emmanuel II started talks for a treaty with Austria. The military governor of Austria compelled him to dissolve the liberal constitution declared by his father, Charles Albert. But Victor Emmanuel II refused to accept this condition and said:
“I would lose a hundred crowns. If you want war to the death, be it so, I will call my people once more to arms. If I fail, it shall be without shame. My house knows the road of exile but not of dishonour.”
At last, a treaty was entered into between Austria and Piedmont in which it was decided that Victor Emmanuel II would be free to continue the liberal constitution of his father. But he had to pay a large amount to Austria as reparations for war.
After that the revolts of the provinces of Parma, Modena, Lombardy, Venetia and Tuscany were also crushed by Austria. The king of Piedmont-Sardinia became the leader of the patriots of Italian states.
The province of Rome was also affected by the wave of revolution. The Pope of Rome was a liberal ruler and he declared many reforms for the people. But the patriots of Italy became angry with the Pope because he withdrew his army in the war against Austria.
In this way the patriots wanted to teach him a lesson for this treachery. They revolted against the Pope under the efficient leadership of Mazzini. The Pope fled Rome and republic was proclaimed there.
But this act of Mazzini made the Roman Catholics angry. Louis Napoleon, the President of the Second Republic of France sent an army to Rome. With his help, the Pope was again enthroned and Mazzini had to leave the country.
Thus, the revolutionaries failed in achieving their objective in Rome and other provinces of Italy. It was only Piedmont which could be able to preserve the liberal constitution. In the words of C. D. Hazen:
“In 1849 the republics of Florence, Rome and Venice were one after the other, overthrown. The radiant hopes of 1848 had withered fast. A cruel reaction soon held sway throughout most of the peninsula.
The power of Austria was restored, greater apparently than ever. Piedmont alone preserved a real independence, but was for the time being crushed beneath the burdens of a disastrous war and a humiliating peace.”