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The Italian Question


The Italian Question - Its influence on English Parties - Views of Lord Derby, Lord Palmerston, and Lord J. Russell - The Dream of Italian Unity - Difficulties - Austria and the Italian Princes - The Emperor Napoleon - Rumours of War - Speech of Victor Emmanuel - Secret Alliance between France and Piedmont - Marriage of the Princess Clothilde with Prince Napoleon - The Austrian Manifesto - Appeal to Germany - Counter Manifesto of Piedmont - Count Cavour on England - Austrian Ultimatum- Preparations for War - Anxiety in England about the Policy and Aims of the French Emperor - His Explanation of his Views - Antagonism between France and Austria - Congress proposed by Russia, and urged by England, in vain - Austrian Threat against Piedmont - Defiance of Victor Emmanuel - Effect produced in England by the News of the Austrian Invasion - Lord Malmesbury remonstrates - Manifesto of the Emperor of Austria.
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Before commencing the deeply interesting narrative of the last Italian war, which resulted in the establishment of the kingdom of Italy, it is desirable to dispose of the Italian question, in its international aspects, and in its relations to the state of political parties in this country. The influence of that question on the fortunes of the Conservative leaders was certainly very great. Nothing militated so strongly against Lord Derby, or contributed so much to alienate from him the confidence of the mass of the English people, as his apparent want of sympathy with the Italians in their struggles for independence; while the well-known sentiments of Lord Palmerston upon this subject tended in a very high degree to strengthen his influence, and extend his popularity. In the debate on the address at the opening of the session of 1859, Lord Derby, then Prime Minister, betrayed his distrust with regard to the policy of the French Emperor, and his relations with Victor Emmanuel, by contrasting it with the policy of England. She had no separate interest to subserve, no revenge to gratify, no rankling ambition to urge her on. Above all, and he said it emphatically, " she had no secret engagement with any power whatsoever, which would interfere with, fetter, or hamper her free action. He described the state of Italy as one of constant danger to the peace of Europe; but in his view it was not in Lombardy or in Naples the greatest danger existed. Whether the Lombard provinces were a source of strength to Austria or not, he thought that we had nothing to do with their internal government. The Italian provinces were Austrian by inheritance, possession, and treaty; and no other nation, under any plea or upon any pretext, had a right to deprive her of them. The government of Naples, it was true, was repugnant and abhorrent to all English notions, but the king did not require foreign troops to put down discontent. The Premier, forgetting the feelings of his Ultramontane friends in Ireland, then proceeded to point out what he thought to be the real source of danger to the peace of Europe. " The real plague-spot in Italy is the Papal States. The presence of two armies there, not placed to uphold liberty, is the real danger. It would be idle for a Protestant Government to interfere, but their best endeavours would not be wanting to second the efforts of France and Austria for the amelioration of the internal administration of the Papal States."

This language made it abundantly plain that the heart of Lord Derby was with Austria, and he proceeded to show how little moral support the constitutional King of Sardinia had reason to expect from his Cabinet. He declared his conviction that Sardinia would forfeit the sympathy of Europe, by affording proof that constitutional liberty might encourage the warlike propensities of a monarch, and lead him to acts of aggression. The attitude assumed towards Austria was inconsistent with her interest and her duty, and he trusted it was not too late to re-consider the course upon which she seemed about to enter. She would be most ill-advised to offer provocations. To no country could she look for aid but to France, and he could not believe that the French ruler would sanction, even by moral support, still less by military means, an unjustifiable and aggressive war, undertaken by Sardinia against Austria. He earnestly trusted that the Emperor of the French would persist in that wise, prudent, and loyal course he had hitherto pursued. That these views should be expressed by the leader of the Conservative party, was not so strange as that Lord Brougham should regard the Italian cause in the same light, and should have had an equally dim perception of the magnificent results of the war which was then impending - a war which, he believed, would inevitably become European. In the House of Commons Lord Palmerston noticed the gloomy anticipations of the Government with respect to the threatened war in Italy. "Judging from what we are told," he said, "there is a probability of a great European war, beginning by a conflict in Italy between France and Sardinia on the one hand, and Austria on the other, with the object of the expulsion of the Austrian power in that country." This, he thought, would be no great evil even to Austria, for her rule in Italy made her hateful without contributing to her strength. Lord John Russell, on the same occasion, spoke out strongly on the Italian question, describing the Austrian government in Italy from 1815 down as one unbroken system of oppression, of which he gave some of the most flagrant instances. The Austrian and French armies had imposed upon the Papal States about the worst government that ever afflicted any country. There was no need for a bloody war. All that was required was to let the Roman people, as well as the Sardinian people, frame laws for themselves. This would be an easy solution of the Italian question, and would speedily bring about peace and contentment; the Catholic powers of Europe providing for the personal security of the Pope.

These might be regarded as merely incidental statements upon a question which at this time, to a large extent, occupied the attention of the public. But at a later period in the session it became the subject of special notice in both Houses. On the 18th of April it was introduced by Lord Malmesbury in the Upper House. He admitted that the people of this country were alienated from Austria on account of her Italian policy; but he said that no statesman would for a minute deny her rights - " rights which had been acquired by conquest, inheritance, and treaty, precisely in the same way as this country held many of its own possessions." There was, however, in his opinion, a true cause of complaint against Austria, arising from her interference with other Italian states besides Lombardy. He alluded to a proposed congress for settling the Italian question, to Lord Cowley's fruitless mission to Vienna, and lamented that the Government had in vain used every effort " to avert a war which would be no common one, but would be a theatre for the dreams of the wildest theorists and the most unprincipled adventurers." The Government had urged a mutual disarmament; but none of the parties would consent. On the contrary, the most formidable preparations were being made for war. In France everything denoted an approaching campaign. Sardinia was devoting nearly all her resources to the formation of a great army; while the war-spirit of Germany was excited to the highest pitch. Lord Clarendon, commenting upon the state of affairs - notwithstanding his great experience strangely miscalculated the forces that were at work in Italy. " The bubble of Italian unity," he said, " had at length burst, and the detestable party of Mazzini and his accomplices was almost extinct. Supposing that Austria was driven out, and Lombardy was annexed to Piedmont, the people of Milan and Venice would never agree with those of Sardinia, but would be even more discontented than they are now. Piedmont was nothing more than the advanced guard of France, and he considered that the defeat of Austria would only substitute one master for another." The Premier, like other statesmen, failed to forecast the future in the event of a war. " It would not," he said, "be localised in Italy; it would be impossible to confine it to that country. It would extend itself, and involve the world in universal conflagration." It would bring the whole of Germany into the field. England, which could not look unmoved at the occupation of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, would be drawn into the vortex. But the chance of peace, he thought, would be immeasurably strengthened if it were known that this country would not remain an unmoved spectator of any event in which her honour was concerned.

On the same evening Mr. Disraeli also made a statement about the affairs of Italy, in which he expressed a similar opinion - that the Italian war would probably be a European war; and that England might be drawn into it by imperial considerations of the most urgent character, as well as in the interests of civilisation. There had been much talk of a congress and of a previous disarmament, in the principle of which Austria and France professed to agree, but Sardinia very properly refused unless she were admitted to the congress, and to this Austria would not consent. The discussion led to no result in either House, and it was immediately followed by the dissolution of Parliament. When the new Parliament assembled the question again came up, having in the meantime assumed a new aspect. The King of Naples had died, and was succeeded by his son; in consequence of which England and France renewed their diplomatic intercourse with that court. This matter was referred to in the Queen's speech. The war in Italy, so much dreaded, had already commenced, and shortly after the Derby Cabinet ceased to exist. Lord Malmesbury, the late Foreign Secretary, took the earliest opportunity to defend the course which he had adopted, denying the assertion of Lord Palmerston, that he had patronised Austria, or that he had passed the bounds of neutrality.

The long-cherished dream of Italian unity, which Lord Clarendon treated with so much scorn, was as little likely as any other political dream to be realised. The difficulties lying in the way seemed to be absolutely insuperable. The country was cut up into sections called principalities. It was the policy of their numerous sovereigns, while cultivating a fraternal feeling among themselves, to foster animosities between their respective populations, lest by any chance they should unite for their own deliverance. The shadow of Austrian power, like an immense poison-tree, shed a blighting influence over the whole land, and under its shelter the petty princes exercised their despotic arts according to their own capricious wills. There were the duchies of Tuscany, Modena, Reggio, Mirandola, Massa, Este, Parma, Placentia, Lucca, the Legations of Ravenna, Ferrara, and Bologna, and the States of the Church - some of the fairest regions in the world, inhabited by a noble race, all of which were held in miserable bondage. It seemed impossible that their bonds should ever be broken. In 1815, a defensive alliance was concluded between the Emperor of Austria and the Duke of Tuscany for the defence of their respective states, Austria engaging to furnish 80,000 men of all arms, and the Grand Duke 6,000. In 1847, the Emperor made a similar treaty, called a special convention, with the Duke of Modena, by which the Emperor of Austria was bound, as soon as applied to, to give immediately all the military support necessary to put down any insurrectionary movement. Had the population been left to deal with the small princes who trampled upon them, they would have had little difficulty in asserting their rights, and securing for themselves the blessings of freedom. But wherever the least outbreak occurred, though the people were tortured to madness, the tremendous military power of Austria was precipitated upon them with the overwhelming force of an avalanche. It is, however, a singular and encouraging fact in the arrangements of Providence, that the means adopted to extinguish all hope in the hearts of the people, and to render deliverance impossible, should have been the very means by which that deliverance was effected. Had Austria confined herself to her own possessions secured to her by treaty, it would have been difficult for Victor Emmanuel, or Louis Napoleon, to find a cause of quarrel sufficient to justify a war. But she had usurped the virtual sovereignty of the duchies of Tuscany. Modena, and Parma; and her troops occupied the Legations, while the King of Naples and the Pope were little more than her creatures. It was this crushing domination of a foreign power that warranted foreign intervention, and excused even the ambition of France and Piedmont.

Such was the state of things at the close of the year 1858, when, save this one dark spot in the political horizon, everything indicated profound peace. On New Year's Day the French Emperor is accustomed to receive the foreign ambassadors at the Tuileries. On the 1st of January, 1859, he turned to M. Hubner, the Austrian minister, and abruptly said to him, "I regret that our relations with your government are not so good as they have been hitherto; but I beg you to assure the Emperor that my personal feelings towards him are not changed." A portentous meaning was generally ascribed to this remark, and in order to allay the apprehensions it excited, the Moniteur was instructed to declare that there was nothing in the diplomatic relations of the two courts to warrant the prevailing rumours of war. But this pacific assurance was more than counteracted by the speech of Victor Emmanuel in opening the Sardinian Chambers on the 10th of the same month. "The horizon," he said, "was not entirely serene, but encouraged by the experience of the past, he was prepared resolutely to encounter the eventualities of the future. His country, small in territory, had acquired credit in the councils of Europe, because it was great through the ideas it represented and the sympathies it inspired. This position," said the King, "is not exempt from perils, since, while we respect treaties, we are not insensible to the cry of suffering which reaches us from so many parts of Italy. Strong by our concord, confiding in our good right, we await, prudent and decided, the decrees of Divine Providence."

It was generally believed at this time that a secret alliance had been formed between the Emperor and the King, though its exact nature could not be conjectured. That it implied much to the advantage of France, or to the family of the Emperor, as the price of his armed intervention, was inferred from the marriage of Prince Napoleon to the Princess Clothilde, eldest daughter of Victor Emmanuel, then only sixteen years of age. Her hand was demanded by General Niel on the 23rd of January, and the marriage took place a week after. These and other indications of the designs of the French Emperor, warned the Austrian Government to make energetic preparations for the defence of its possessions in Italy; and a manifesto on the subject was issued on the 5th of February in the form of an address from the Prime Minister, Count Buol, to the representatives of Austria at foreign courts. This was an appeal to the German Confederation to act as a united power, if Austria, by an attack on her possessions in Italy, should be called upon to take up arms against one of the greatest military states in Europe. With common consent, it was remarked, public opinion had declared that, if the rupture of the public law of Europe should threaten a German power, even should it only be at first in her non-German possessions, all her allies ought to make common cause with her, so as to preserve the peace by the moral force of so powerful a union; and in case, against all expectations, that result should not be obtained, to protect the sanctity of treaties, and thus shield at the same time the honour, the dignity, the safety, and the power of United Germany. While thus appealing for support to the other German governments, Austria was pushing forward extraordinary armaments along the frontier of the Po and Ticino. Strong masses of troops were quartered at Cremona, Placenza, and Pavia, assuming an aggressive aspect towards Piedmont. Orders had been given to hold military stores and; quarters in readiness in many places. A decree was issued forbidding the exportation of horses into Piedmont. As another indication of war, Austria had contracted a loan of 150,000,000 francs. These facts were alluded to in the Sardinian Chamber, as warranting that government in contracting a loan of 50,000,000 francs. This was carried in the chamber by a majority of 116 to 35. The Prime Minister, Count Cavour, also issued a counter-manifesto to the Sardinian agents at foreign courts, vindicating his policy, as being rendered necessary by the hostile manifestations on the part of Austria, He delivered a speech to the same effect, in which he alluded to the opinions that had been expressed about Italy and the British Parliament. No one in that chamber, he remarked, gave greater weight than he did to the opinions of English statesmen. From infancy he had been accustomed to respect that country as the one from which he had acquired the greater part of the political knowledge which had guided him in his career. He proceeded: " I esteem and respect England, which I regard as one of the first powers in the world: I venerate it, because I consider it as the rock where liberty has found, and might again find, an impregnable refuge. I have always preferred, as far as was possible, the English alliance. I have done it, as a writer and as a minister, to such a point, that I have been reproached as an Anglo-maman." He referred to various acts of the Sardinian Government in proof of this - their commercial provisions, the part they took in the Eastern question, and the Congress of Paris - and observed that, although England, through Lord Derby and other English statesmen, had passed upon the Italian question a judgment which he held to be in great part erroneous, yet she expressed it in a manner which still denoted her sympathy and friendship. Unfortunately, after 1856 England thought it necessary for the interests of her policy to draw towards Austria, thinking to find in that power, which had given her no support on the battle-field, but had assisted her in the field of diplomacy, a sure ally on the Eastern question. She judged the Neapolitan and Roman Governments now as she did three years before, but fancied that transformation on the left of the Po which those who were nearer to it could not discover. " The cry of suffering," said Count Cavour, " which arises from Naples and Bologna, still reaches with the same intensity the banks of the Thames; while, unfortunately, to the tears and lamentations that burst forth from Milan and Venice, an inexorable barrier is opposed by the Austrian Alps. This is grave, gentlemen, I do not deny it, but it does not wholly dishearten me. I have faith in the right sense and generous sentiments of the English nation; I know by experience that with the English public the cause of justice and truth always triumphs in the end; I know that the principles of liberty, that just and noble causes, find in that generous people ardent and eloquent defenders, and that when one succeeds in detaching a question from the shackles of sophistry, and in placing it clearly and plainly before that great nation, the probabilities of success are on the side of right, of progress, and of civilisation. I am not disheartened, gentlemen, because, although I have not attained the extreme limit of age, I remember to have seen repeatedly triumph in England causes that were defended in the name of justice and liberty, although opposed by prejudices and by individual interests, and by the sentiments of caste. The contests may be long, but success is certain. I remember the great struggle which gave rise to the emancipation of Ireland, and I also recollect the triumph. I still recollect the longer and more obstinate contests for the emancipation of the negro race, that great cause which was opposed by the most powerful interests of the colonies, and by the prejudices of almost all the commercial classes of England. The cause of Italy, gentlemen, is not less sacred, not less worthy to move generous minds than that of the Irish or that of the black race; it also will triumph before the tribunal of English public opinion. I cannot believe that the illustrious statesman at the head of the counsels of the Crown in England, and who had the great good fortune of associating the distinguished name transmitted to him by history with the great cause of negro emancipation, will be willing to terminate his brilliant career by rendering himself the accomplice of those who would condemn the Italians to an eternal servitude."

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