To what extent does Cavour deserve his reputation as the architect of Italian Unification

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Last updated: November 5, 2019

The extent of Cavour’s role in the process that finally brought about Italian Unification is much debated among modern historians.

Many notable contemporary historians have their own school of thought on the extent of Cavour’s role in Italian unification. Opinions range from the likes of Mack smith who powerfully believe that Cavour had little impact on Italian amalgamation to historians such as Derek Beales who believe Cavour’s impact on Italian Unification was significant.The question on which I am writing this essay specifically asks me to focus on whether Cavour was the sole, coherent, energy behind a period of long-term planning that would bring about Italian unification. Ultimately Cavour was neither the above, nor anything near this but he was the sole provider of a unique set of catalyst that allowed a unified Italian Nation to become a reality not an idea held dear by a small number of mainly rich upper class radical thinkers. Cavour’s foreign policy certainly raised the status of Piedmont on an international stage.This united with a progressive domestic policy that liberated the country of most of the post French occupation reactionary measures. This series of reforms under Cavour’s Piedmont led it to become the most progressive and forward-looking state in what would become Italy.

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Under his leadership many Italian Nationalist, though a small and deeply divided bunch, looked towards Piedmont to provide the mechanism to create a united Italy. In the 1850’s Piedmont certainly looked the most probable source of unification even if this prospect was lean.Cavour’s strong role as prime minister guided an initially weary Cabinet in the Crimean war. Whether Cavour was pushed by external international factors or stepped willingly into this role as part of a long-term plan is debateable. This was a crucial role of Cavour in his foreign policy in the fact that it gained Piedmont a seat as an equal with many of the great European powers that led to greater Franco-Piemontese cooperation. Just as much as this information can be used to support an argument for Cavour’s planning of Italian unification it also applies to his plans for Piemontese expansion.Cavour was a very able politician and a clever international diplomat as his activities at the Treaty of Vienna inform us.

If Cavour was a committed unionist it was important that he did not let these feelings show at Plombieres or in any correspondence with Napoleon. Cavour was a shrewd enough politician to realise that he could only get France to enter a war against Austria under very exacting conditions. One of these conditions was that a war with Austria would not lead to Italian unification in any form.He realised that a united Italy for France would be problematic due to the presence of another power on the French doorstop. Cavour, in his letter to Victor Emmanuel, agrees with Napoleon on the new lay out of Italy that he states “this arrangement to me seems fully acceptable. ” To guarantee worthwhile support from France to rid the peninsula of the ever-present Austrian influence Cavour could not at any point publicly align himself with the fractioned nationalistic groups.

This is because Cavour critically realised, unlike Charles Albert, that Italy could not do it by herself.This can pass as the long term planning that had been lacking in previous revolutionary unification attempts but it is more likely to be speculation when placed within context. Never the less these thoughts would have been apparent to Cavour even if he felt he could not make them public. The unification of the Italian peninsula led to a unique set of problems for Victor Emmanuel. The country was undoubtedly disjointed. Economically the South was considerably poorer when compared to the semi-industrialized north.

Transport was a major issue as was language and communication, under 5% of the country spoke what today would be recognised as Italian. It was under these conditions that the beginning of a “government cover-up which led to nearly a quarter of all documents relevant to Italian unification being tampered with in some fashion” (Mack-smith; some myths re-examined). The aim of this governmental scheme was to tie together all of the loose threads that would have to make Italy. Italians needed more in the history of unification than there really was.Italians needed to believe that unification came from a gradual rise in the Risorgimento, an alternative history based on Piemontese expansion would be damaging to the young, culturally divided country. This mass cover-up is instrumental in understanding if Cavour deserves his almost mystical reputation as the architect of Italian unification.

This cover up leads me to believe that there were many documented occasions when Cavour did not fully back Italian unification that for the sake of unification needed to be ‘altered’.It is true that Cavour did make several references to the state of Italy under Austria in his publication ‘il risorgimento’ that was published for the first time under Charles Albert. This was never a publication with Italian unification as its theme neither was it ever seriously discussed within its pages. So in the 1830’s it is secure postulation that Cavour didn’t harbour any nationalistic desires. So in a long-term perspective Cavour was not a committed nationalist from an early age.

Cavour at several points in the 1850’s describes Italian unification as manifestly “rubbish” (Stile p46).It is entirely possible that Cavour held this viewpoint at least up to 1858 and most probably even later. Some sources also suggest that Cavour felt that his job and reputation had been successfully fulfilled when the majority of northern Italy had been united under Piedmont. As late as the end of December 1859 Cavour was still content with a united Northern Italy. Mack Smith has previously used the following quote to display Cavour’s lack of commitment to the Italian cause, “We must leave Naples out of it.

United Italy will be our children’s achievement. I’m satisfied with what we have got”Several other events lead us to believe that this is true. Cavour, for example, turned away a consortium of potential radical and pro-piedmont leaders of a post-revolution Sicily in March 1860. Cavour’s relationship with Garibaldi, which I will explore later is very much dependant upon Cavour’s aspirations in Southern Italy. Certainly the above sources would suggest that in March 1860 Cavour is satisfied with what already is a considerable achievement for a small Italian states politician and diplomat. The relationship between Cavour and many of the prominent Italian nationalists was strained at best.This is mainly due to the fact that the Italian nationalists were not singing with a united voice. The broad term ‘Italian Nationalists’ does little to bring out what a divided group this is.

The group encompassed republican, monarchists and those who favoured a confederation under the Pope. Their inability to work together and create a united front was the main reason for the failure of the revolutions that swept the country in both the early 1820’s and 1830’s. Cavour did little to help Garibaldi in the expedition of the thousand. Cavour’s action in marching down the peninsula when Garibaldi was marching up it, Mac Smith argues was to stop Garibaldi carrying out an alternative, popular and possibly republican risorgimento. ” Garibaldi could have established an alternative power base as a direct competitor to what really was a skilfully much enlarged Piedmont.

Mac smith, without quoting his source, refers to the fact that he “employed French policemen to capture the monster Cavour. ” Cavour privately wrote just before the commencement of Garibaldi’s voyage the he “Omitted nothing to persuade Garibaldi to drop his mad scheme” But Cavour was a diplomat and had to be careful of who he backed. He had many reasons to be worried about the motives of Garibaldi.A committed republican he had only just started to operate under the house of Savoy. Militarily and statistically Garibaldi’s expedition stood little or no chance. If Cavour had chosen to back Garibaldi it would have been at an extreme risk to Cavour and Piedmont. Public backing of Garibaldi would be the final straw for France who insisted on keeping the Neapolitans on side due to their connection with the Tsar. Statistically few would have backed Garibaldi and Cavour, a victim of the military ideas of the time, would have put little emphasis on Garibaldi’s new ‘guerrilla’ warfare.

A number of sources available to myself indicate ulterior motives. Cavour’s main aims during his period as Prime Minister were to modernize Piedmont and prepare it for Piemontese expansion. The above sources prove this part of my hypothesis. In relation to the essay question the above sources inform the modern historian that Cavour had neither any long term plans, by this I mean beliefs, desires and plans held dear fro a period of decades, or short term plans, in the years building to the activities at Plombieres.

I am positive that Cavour did not harbour any long-term desire to unite the whole of the Italian peninsula. A number of sources taken from different points in Cavour’s time before and during the time he held a position of power indicate that he certainly did not have the detailed planning which would require the title and reputation as an ‘architect of Italian unification. ‘ Cavour’s attitude to Italian unification whenever it appears to be positive was merely a veil for his main, and well-planned objective, thus being Piemontese expansion.Older historians such as AJ Whyte believe that Cavour was following a ‘master plan’ to Italian unification are in light new analysis and evidence incorrect.

Cavour’s support of the ceding of Savoy and Nice against the wishes of Victor Emmanuel indicates that Cavour was not really a committed Italian Nationalist nor the true architect of Italian Unity. Ultimately Cavour “considered unification of the entire peninsular neither possible or desirable” and chose not to work towards an unified Italy using his immense political and diplomatic skills.

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