Essay on the Impact of French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars in Unification of Italy

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The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars which followed it provided a fillip to Italian nationalism and greatly contributed to the development of a sense of unity. On the one hand, the Italians were inspired by the French Revolutionary ideas and strongly resisted outside interference in their national life.

On the other hand, Napoleon Bonaparte promoted the idea of national unification by uniting various kingdoms of Italy and creat­ing Republic of Italy. However, these achievements proved only tempo­rary and soon after the fall of Napoleon, Italy were again divided into several small units and the successors of the old royal families were again seated on the thrones of these tiny kingdoms.

Some of these rulers de­liberately ignored the interests of the people under them and acted in an autocratic manner. Lombardy and Venetia were annexed to the Austrian Empire. The smaller kingdoms of Tuscany, Parma and Modena were distributed among the princes or Austria. Victor Emmanual and Pope were seated on the thrones of Savoy and Rome respectively.

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But the people of Italy who had been greatly inspired by the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity of the French Revolution could not recon­cile themselves to this situation.

This led to the formation of the Car-bonary, a secret society, for the liberation of Italy from the clutches of the foreigners. However, the various secret societies did not work in coopera­tion with each other. Despite this several rulers of Italy abandoned their autocratic rule and adopted liberal attitude towards the people.

The two rulers who took a lead in this regard were Ferdinand, the King of Naples and Victor Emmanual, the ruler of Piedmont. However, Mctternich was not happy with these developments and sent an army to Italy to check the growing liberalizing tendencies. He succeeded in checking the liberal doctrines with the help of Austrian armies.

In the wake of fresh revolutions in France in 1830 and 1848 there was a fresh bid on the part of the Italians to achieve liberation. The people of Tuscany, Piedmont, Parma, Modena and Naples met with considerable success.

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However, on account of lack of necessary co-operation among the members of various secret societies, the Austrian armies succeeded in suppressing the revolts and autocratic rule was again clamped on Italy. As Hayes has observed “With the failure of the revolutions of 1948-49, Italy returned to her former condition of division into smaller states, arbitrary Governments and domination of Austria.”

It may be observed that the national movement during this period was divided into two parts-the moderates and the revolutionaries. The former represented the aristocracy and upper classes. They wanted to lead the Italian people towards national unity but did not want to give them any share in the control of the United States. They also did not want to deprive the Pope of his temporal power.

They wanted the ruler of Piedmont to provide a lead because he was Italian and free from influence. The revolutionaries or radicals on the other hand mainly hailed from middle classes and artisans. They wanted to bring about union of Italy through series of rebellions, simultaneously organized throughout the peninsula. They hoped that in the course of these rebellions the various states would merge themselves into a single whole.

They favoured Republican government on French model. They wanted to achieve all this under leadership of Mazzini. However, despite the divergence in the approach of the moderates and the republicans (revolutionaries) the two groups made a compromise and made a bid to achieve unity.

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