Depretis, Agostino

(1812–1887)
   The quintessential professional politician, Depretis was born in the province of Pavia (Lombardy) in 1812 to a family of wealthy landowners. His political career started in his midthirties when he was elected to the Piedmontese Parliament. Initially a Mazzinian, he remained in opposition until the war of 1859, but then entered into government service, acting as the intermediary in 1860 between the Piedmontese government and the Garibaldini in Sicily. This task was the harbinger of many future conflicts between Depretis and Garibaldi’s secretary, the young Francesco Crispi.
   Depretis’s first experience of ministerial office came in the 1860s, as minister for public works, but from 1867 onward Depretis was in opposition. After the death of Urbano Rattazzi in 1873, he became the most important figure on the moderate left and led the parliamentary opposition to the economic austerity of Quintino Sella and Marco Minghetti. In the 1874 elections the left, ably exploiting public discontent with Sella’s grist tax, won over 200 seats in the Chamber. In October 1875, Depretis made a famous speech in his hometown of Stradella, in which he outlined the program the left would follow in government. The key points were faithfulness to the monarchy and a series of major social reforms, including the abolition of the grist tax, the extension of the right to vote, and compulsory elementary education. Depretis came to power in the so-called parliamentary revolution of March 1876 when rightist deputies from Tuscany and Lombardy switched their support to the left. Depretis formed a government that included numerous representatives from southern Italy and then called new elections in November 1876. The elections were an immense triumph for the left, which obtained over 400 seats, but were marred by unprecedented government interference with the press and the local electoral authorities.
   The left’s huge majority soon split into two main blocs: the “purists” headed by Crispi, and the “moderates” led by Depretis. Between 1876 and May 1881, Depretis headed two governments that introduced slowly and incompletely the main points of the 1875 program. Compulsory education between six and nine years of age was introduced in 1877, although it was imperfectly enforced; the grist tax was abolished, but little else was done to improve the lot of the poorest citizens. In 1882, Depretis’s third government did finally introduce a reform to the suffrage: The vote was extended to more than 600,000 new electors—7 percent of the population could now cast a ballot. In foreign policy, Depretis was concerned to stay on good terms with Germany and Austria. In 1882, Italy adhered to the Triple Alliance, which would remain the focus of the nation’s foreign policy until 1915, and began looking for its own “place in the sun” by colonizing territories along the banks of the Red Sea. Prior to the elections in October 1882, Depretis sensed that he could liberate himself from the “purists” by opening to the right. Accordingly, he appealed to members of the opposition to “transform themselves” into moderate progressives. The maneuver was successful. Led by Marco Minghetti, over 70 former rightists gave their support to the government Depretis set up after the elections. The “purists” protested, but they, too, took part in the government at one time or another. Depretis’s political career ended in February 1887 following the disastrous massacre of the Italian expeditionary force at Dogali in Ethiopia.
   See also Trasformismo.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Depretis, Agostino — born Jan. 13, 1813, Mezzana Corti, Kingdom of Italy died July 29, 1887, Stradella, Italy Italian politician. In 1848 he was elected to the first Piedmontese parliament and was reelected thereafter until his death. After Italy was unified, he… …   Universalium

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  • Agostino Depretis — (* 31. Januar 1813 in Mezzana; † 29. Juli 1887 in Stradella) war ein italienischer Staatsmann. Er war Premierminister in den folgenden Perioden: 25. März 1876–24. März 1878 19. Dezember 1878–14. Juli 1879 29. Mai 1 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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