Revolutions of 1848


Revolutions of 1848
   Even by the turbulent standards of the “year of revolutions,” Italy endured a period of exceptional upheaval in 1848–1849. Tension had been building throughout 1847. Poor harvests, the liberal reformism of Pius IX, and resentment at the heavy taxes levied by the Austrians (which gave rise to the so-called smokers’strike in Lombardy in January 1848) all contributed to a favorable climate of opinion for a revolt against absolutism. The catalyst for revolution was the successful revolt of the people of Palermoand Naples in January 1848, which compelled Ferdinand II to concede a constitutional monarchy, and then the French Revolution of February, which ignited public opinion in Berlin and Vienna, where Klemens von Metternich himself was deposed by a popular insurrection on 13 March.
   The first stage of revolutionary activity in Italy was liberal and constitutionalist. As soon as news of the downfall of Metternich reached Milan, Lombardy and Venice rose in revolt against the Austrians in March 1848. During the “five glorious days” (18–23 March 1848), the Milanese drove the Austrians from the city. In Venice, the people seized power and hoisted the tricolor, declaring a republic. Insurrections broke out in Bologna, Parma, Piacenza, and other northern Italian cities. Against the wishes of some of their most influential leaders, the cities and republics of northern Italy voted to unify themselves with Piedmont-Sardinia, which declared war on Austria in March after already having adopted a liberal Constitution. Defeat at Custoza was followed by an armistice with the Austrians and the reoccupation of Milan by General Joseph Radetzky’s forces.
   The reoccupation of Milan only inflamed the peninsula further. The peoples of the Papal States, angered by Pius IX’s tacit support for Austria, rose in revolt in Rome in November and imposed on the pope a government of pronounced liberal sympathies. On 24 November, Pius IX fled to Naples (where Ferdinand and the forces of reaction had bloodily regained control). The revolt in Rome, and similar uprisings in Florence, Livorno (Leghorn), and Genoa, were explicitly republican and democratic—even socialist—in tone. In Rome, the liberal government appointed by the pope lasted but a few days. On 21–22 January 1849, free elections by universal male suffrage were held, and on 9 February Rome became a republic. Church property was confiscated, public workshops and housing were provided, and certain taxes were abolished. Giuseppe Mazzini arrived in Rome in March 1849 and was swiftly given dictatorial power. Papal authority was restored in Rome by the French army. Louis Napoleon, anxious to curry favor with French Catholics, sent an expeditionary force of 10,000 men to Italy in April 1849. Led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Romans mounted a spirited resistance, and it was only after reinforcements arrived from Naples and Spain, and a month of destructive bombardment, that the city surrendered to the French at the beginning of July 1849. Venice was the last bastion of revolution to fall: It eventually surrendered to General Radetzky after a bloody siege on 23 August 1849.
   See also Papacy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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