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Why did the nationalist revolutions of the 1820s and 1830s fail?

By Samuel Ahmed 12U

Between 1820 and 1830 there was a rise in nationalistic views amongst Italians. Many of them started revolutions hoping that it would lead to the unification of Italy. However the revolutions of the 1820s and 1830s failed to reach that objective. In this essay I will be looking at how and why they were unsuccessful. One of the most important factors was the fact that there was very little communication between revolutionaries in different states. Italy didnt exist at that time; it was a mere geographic expression. Many Italians regarded them selves as being from their state. For example people from Sicily were known as Sicilians and people from Tuscany were known as Tuscans, they werent recognised as Italians. This was not good for unification as there was very little interaction between the states since they were culturally different. For instance, the revolutionary government in Bologna refused to send help to Modena, as they didnt want to use up their own resources. Nationalist revolutions were uncoordinated and they relied heavily on the network of secret, minor groups such as the Carbonari who had different aims in different states. Some may argue that groups like the Carbonari had a huge membership in states like Naples (60,000) however since they were a sworn to secrecy it was difficult for them to organise a national revolution or spread nationalistic ideas across regions. Most of the states were fixed on regional issues such as Sicily. Sicilians were against the unification with Naples as they felt the ruler King Ferdinand I was oppressive and was solely focusing on Naples. Therefore one can argue that these revolutions were not in fact national but were mainly local and regional uprisings against old rulers. The idea of National unification did not spread to everyone in Italy. Since many revolutionaries were educated middle class men it meant that the majority of the population, which were peasants, were not even involved in the uprisings. Some say the work of Mazzini helped to spread the ideas of nationalism and unification across Italy. However the efforts of revolutionaries like Mazzini only appealed to a few middle class families who got a taste of liberalism and freedom during the French occupation. Peasants didnt feel there was a great change during or after the French occupation because they still had to work very hard to earn a living. Poor peasants couldnt read and write let alone afford to buy the books. Peasants were more interested in getting more land, which revolutionaries could not promise to provide. Also as mentioned before many revolutionary groups were secret societies which meant that the message was not spread to the masses. Without the support of the peasant population it was impossible to have a unified and national Italian revolution.

Another reason for the failures of the 1820 and 1820 revolutions was the fact that the revolutionary groups were ill equipped and foreign and internal support. A very good example of this was the revolution that took place in Piedmont in 1820-1. Charles Albert was appointed as the leader for the liberals after the King Victor Emmanuel I abdicated his throne due to the revolutionary forces. However Albert was not a legitimate ruler, he was second in line to the throne. Soon Charles Felix (first in line to the throne) returned to Piedmont and denounced Albert as a rebel. Felix didnt accept the new government appointed by Albert. So he got help from the Austrian Military to scare of Albert and the Liberals. Albert and his fellow revolutionaries didnt have many military resources and were certainly no match for the ruthless Austrian army. Also he didnt have much support from the other regions of Italy who were mainly afraid to get involved, as they were also very ill equipped. Italy was not an industrial country they relied a lot on their agricultural sector, therefore they didnt have enough money to supply the same weapons as the Austrian military were provided with. Revolutionaries in the Papal States used scythes as one of their sophisticated means of weaponry. Also developed nations like France werent willing to help as they had a policy of non-interference, which meant it wasnt the responsibility of France to get involved with what was going on in Italy. Another important factor was the Troppau agreement (1820), a declaration of intention to take collective action against revolution. This protocol was signed by Austria, Russia and Prussia. Effectively this allowed Austria to do whatever they wanted to do to Italy if there were any revolutionary uprisings. Britain and France were present at the negotiations and remained as neutrals. However since they were not against the Austrians it meant that Italy had no genuine foreign support. Essentially this meant that the Italy failed to stand up to a well-oiled Austrian army due to a lack of military resources, foreign support and a united Italian armed force. The influence of Austria played a major role in the failures of the revolutions in 1820s and 1830s. The Austrian chancellor Klemens Von Metternich was not in favour of liberal, national or radical ideas and was strongly against a unification of Italy. His thought of great powers taking action to suppress disturbances in Italy was drawn up in the Trappau Agreement. It practically allowed Austria to have free control over everything that happened in Italy. Metternich could leave his army in Italian states to intimidate revolutionaries. The Italian revolutionaries were outnumbered and nowhere near as organised as the brutal Austrian armed forces. Austria also had a significant influence on the Kings and leaders of the Italian Peninsula. For example the Austrian army had promised to protect the Pope as long as he wasnt spreading or accepting any radical ideas. King Ferdinand of Naples went to seek help from Austria when revolutionaries effectively took over the Neapolitan government. Metternich sent in the Austrian armed forces that dealt with the problem with ease and King Ferdinand was reappointed. By 1831, five out of six of the main Italian rulers had called upon Austrian troops to help them. Since most Italians were poor they couldnt afford to buy military resources that the Austrians had at their disposal. Another factor that made the Austrias work effortless was the

fact that the Italian states were separated. It was easier for them to fight one group at a time rather than a larger unified Italian army. The revolutions of 1820 and 1830 were failures. The power and authority that the Austrians imposed over the Italians meant that revolutions were effortlessly crushed. Since Italy was a poor country it didnt have the means to provide resources to fight the Austrians. The message of national unification didnt spread to the masses and therefore revolutionary movements lacked substantial support and only appealed to a minority middle class. Italy itself was divided, people fought for different reasons but there was no call for unification against the common enemy. The Italian states were too weak individually to face a massive and well-trained Austrian army. If unification was to be successful, revolutionaries should have magnetized every single Italian to the idea of national identity. Without a national identity or purpose people wouldnt know what they were fighting for.