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World's Famous Foreign Statesmen:
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Count Cavour

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

1810-1861

THE MAKING OF UNITED ITALY

Camillo Benso di Cavour, the great statesman to whom Italy owes its present status as one of the Great Powers of Europe, was born at Turin on August 10, 1810, Count Cavour belonged to one of the oldest families of the Italian nobility, tracing his genealogy back to an ancestor who came into Italy among the followers of Frederick Barbarossa. His father, the Marquis Michele di Cavour, intended his son for the army. Accordingly, at ten years of age, Camillo was sent to the military academy. Here he distinguished himself so greatly, especially for his proficiency in mathematics, that when he left the academy at sixteen, he was a sub-lieutenant of engineers, although by the rules of the service it was not before twenty years of age that an officer's commission could be obtained.

Cavour's military career was destined, however, to be of short duration. After having served in various garrisons, he was sent to Genoa, where, in consequence of some imprudent expressions, in a. time of political excitement, he got into disgrace, which he soon found could only end by resigning his commission. His resignation was at once accepted, and he entered upon the life of a civilian at the age of twenty, with no career before him and without credit or distinction.

The next fifteen years of Cavour's life were spent in farming and in business operations. We are told that when he began his agricultural apprenticeship, on one of the family estates, it was as much as he could do to distinguish a cabbage from a turnip. But his progress was rapid, and in 1833 he undertook the management of a large estate, much neglected, which his father had bought a few years, previously, and here he was soon devoting all his energies to scientific farming.

But Cavour was instinctively attracted toward every subject which tended to satisfy his insatiable activity. The agricultural, manufacturing and financial enter-prises, some of a private nature, others of a public interest, in which he engaged during these years, are too many to enumerate. At one time he was superintending the clearing of a forest; at another he was undertaking to supply the Pasha of Egypt with 800 merino sheep, which afterward he did not know where to get (though he soon found the means of doing so), then making canals, introducing the cultivation of beet-root, and projecting a manufactory of sugar; but in all this confining himself to agriculture; "for," as he wrote to M. Naville, "our government has no liking for manufactures. It fancies that manufactories are allied to liberalism, to which it entertains an invincible repugnance. In our country, if one would live in peace, one must at-tend to agriculture alone." But after working in every direction in this field, to which he was limited by the Government, Cavour was not long before he passed the boundary line which separated it from manufacture. He established packet-boats on the Lago Maggiore; and in Turin, steam-mills for grinding corn, and a manufactory for chemical products. He formed a railway company, and founded the Bank of Turin. Cavour was a thorough man of business; but with him business was always a secondary matter, an outlet for the superabundance of his activity, or a necessary consequence of his taste for agriculture, which, so long as he was not en-gaged in politics, was his chief occupation and career. In this way, by multifarious business enterprises, Cavour unknowingly trained his faculties for use in that larger field of action to which he was destined to be called; and this explains how, when he entered upon the government of his country, there was not one department of the state which he was not prepared to fill and perfectly fitted to administer.

But all this time Cavour, though excluded from any active participation in the affairs of the Government, was very far from being indifferent to the political movements and agitations which were disturbing the peace of Italy and the whole of Europe. In politics he was liberal, but not radical. The following extract from one of his letters defines his position as early as 1833, a position which became strengthened as his experience widened, and which furnishes the key to his whole political career. "I have long wavered in the midst of these opposite movements. Reason is inclined toward moderation; an irresistible desire to make our laggards move forward drove me toward the movement party. At length, after numerous violent agitations and ascillations, I have ended by fixing myself, like the pendulum of a clock, in the juste-milieu. Accordingly, I inform you that I am an honest member of the juste-milieu (exact middle), eager for social progress and working at it with all my strength, but determined not to purchase it at the cost of political and social subversion." What Cavour wished to see was reform, not revolution. He wished to see Italy emancipated from tyranny; he fore-saw that a violent crisis was at hand; but he wished to see this crisis brought about with as much prudence as the state of things would permit.

We are approaching the period of Cavour's appearance in public life, and it is desirable to understand the situation which confronted him. The condition of Italy at this time was as deplorable as can well be imagined. Its people, more especially the lower classes, exasperated by long misrule and stimulated by the example of France, were in a state of chronic insurrection, and were kept in submission only by the show of brute force. No-where was there any attempt at liberal government, unless, perhaps, in Piedmont, no thought on the part of the rulers to conciliate the hostility of their subjects by concession of any sort, but everywhere was enforced against the restless population a tyrannical policy of repression. Tyranny was met by conspiracy. The Carbonari Society and other revolutionary associations, which included among the legitimate means of contending with oppression organized assassination, extended their ramifications throughout Italy. And to render the political situation still more galling to all classes, the intelligent as well as the ignorant, the controlling power in nearly all Italy was Austria, the "foreigner," as was the term contemptuously applied to her. In the north, Lombardy and Venice were directly subject to the Emperor, and, strongly garrisoned by Austrian troops, were a standing menace to the rest of Italy. Tuscany was governed by a Duke of the House of Austria; the King of Naples, though a Bourbon prince, was backed by the same power, and the Austrian influence was equally dominant in Modena, Parma and other Italian duchies. The papal States were governed by Leo XII, who had adopted a coercive policy as grinding as that of any of the Austrian princes. The most tolerant of the Italian governments at this time was that of Piedmont (Sardinia), whose King, Charles Albert, though an absolute ruler, was still a man of liberal views and disposed to consult the wishes of his people.

To see Italy freed from her foreign masters, and more than this, to see the separate States of which she was composed united under a single Government, had become the earnest desire of every Italian patriot, to whatever class he belonged. The question on which the views of the patriots differed, and differed widely, was the means by which the great end should be accomplished and the sort of government which should be established. The great majority favored a republic; they would emulate France; they would upset entirely the existing state of things, and would oust from their places all princes and their belongings. The great leader of the republican party was Mazzini. It was the aim of Mazzini, not merely to make a republic of Italy, but to overthrow tyrants throughout Europe; to establish in Europe, if not one grand republic, at least a confederacy of republics. A beautiful scheme, well calculated to captivate the impulsive and unreflecting multitude. But Mazzini's followers were by no means all of this class. Among them were found many men of sober judgment as well as of earnest patriotism. Between these radicals and the conservatives, who dreaded all change, were men of every shade of opinion. It was this question which Cavour had in mind when he announced himself a member of the juste-milieu the exact middle.

Toward the end of 1847, Cavour established a news-paper, called the "Risorgimento." At that time the restrictions under which the Piedmontese press labored had, in theory, undergone no change. Still, the Sardinian Government had arrived at one of those periods when the strict enforcement of the law becomes so manifestly improper as to appear almost illegal. Cavour's chief aim in the establishment of this paper was to instruct and enlighten a public hitherto kept in ignorance, but desirous to learn, anxious to understand, and who were in earnest. He discussed the principles which form the basis of political liberty, pointed out how that liberty should be applied, and what was its most obvious con-sequence. Cavour's articles soon came to have a wide circulation and were read with avidity, and they no doubt contributed largely to shape the political sentiment of Piedmont, and secured for him a reputation for moderation and earnestness.

Toward the end of this year (1847), the agitation in Italy was extreme. Pius IX, who had been elected Pope in the year preceding, had pardoned all political offenders in the Papal States, and had granted these States a constitution. Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, influenced by this example, and warned by events of which the urgency became every day more and more apparent, in the following February granted, without solicitation, though in obedience to the obvious wish of his subjects, a constitution to Sardinia. The important duty of drawing up the electoral law was confided to a special commission, of which Cavour was called upon to form a part. All that is known of their labor is the result; but as the result was in exact conformity with the suggestions of a series of articles on the electoral question which had appeared in the "Risorgimento," we may be allowed to attribute it, in great part at least, to Cavour, who was the author of those articles. Taken as a whole, his views may be summed up under two principal heads : he is against universal suffrage, and in favor of a multiplicity of electoral colleges; and he considers the publicity of the sittings of Parliament and the liberty of the press as essentials of any real system of representation.

Cavour failed to obtain a seat in the first Parliament chosen under this Constitution; but he was elected a member of the second, and he continued to be a member of this body until he passed from it to the Cabinet.

In February, 1848, occurred the Revolution in Paris which resulted in the abdication of Louis Philippe. The shock of this political uprising reached Italy, and gave a temporary ascendency to the Mazzinists. Sicily declared her independence from the Bourbons, and called the Duke of Genoa to the throne. In Naples, the moderate liberal Government yielded to a more radical ad-ministration. The Austrians were expelled from Milan and the Governor of Venice capitulated. With these last mentioned events we are now more particularly concerned.

The enthusiasm which prevailed in Northern Italy impelled Charles Albert to declare war against Austria. On the 8th of April he pushed his troops beyond the Mincio, while Piacenza, Parma, Modena, and the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom voted their union to Sardinia by universal suffrage. But the Austrian general, Radetzky, though he lost a battle at Goito, and was forced to witness the capitulation of Peschiera in May, had not given up the game. The Pope had sent troops, which were established at Vicenza, to support the Sardinians. These Radetzky compelled to surrender in June. He then attacked Charles Albert's army, which was investing Mantua, and having gained over it a complete victory, made his entry into Milan. Charles Albert had to retire beyond the Ticino and beg for an armistice. These successes of the Austrians were followed by successes in other parts of Italy. Still, Charles Albert, restrained by the temporary supremacy of the Radical party in Sardinia, which found support in the sympathy extended to the Lombard refugees who flocked into Turin, did not make peace with Austria. In March, 1849, he again took the field. On the 24th Radetzky gained a complete victory over him at Novara, and he was compelled to abdicate the throne of Sardinia on the field in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel. This event, followed a few months later by his death at Oporto, whither he had retired, produced a profound sensation throughout Italy, and Charles Albert came to be looked upon as a martyr to the cause of Italian independence.

The first act of the young king, Victor Emmanuel, was to take an oath of fidelity to the Constitution, and honestly to enter upon the path which was to make his reign illustrious, notwithstanding that the influence of Austria was brought to bear to induce him to overthrow the Constitution, and that many of his advisers counseled the same course. The position in which the new king found himself was a difficult one. The country was in a state of anarchy, excitement and general prostration. The war had been disastrous, and the Nation had now to be redeemed from the conditions of an humiliating peace. Massimo d'Azeglio, one of the ablest of the champions of Italy, was placed at the head of the Cabinet, and at once entered upon a contest with the radical party,-which had gained a temporary preponderance in the Parliament and sought to prolong the war. D'Azeglio found an able supporter in Cavour, both as leader of the moderate party in the Chamber and as editor of the "Risorgimento," which throughout the war had given the King its cordial support, and now came to the assistance of the Cabinet.

In March, 1850, d'Azeglio, at the instigation of Cavour, laid his hands upon certain privileges of the clergy, and proposed the suppression of the ecclesiastical tribunals. A contest was thus opened with the Church, which, though it continued with bitterness for a number of years, may be disposed of here with bare statement that it ended in the complete overthrow of the Church party, and in the establishment of one of the great principles for which Cavour fought, namely, an entire exclusion of the Church from the Government, or, in the phrase of Cavour, "a free Church in a free State."

In the following August a vacancy occurred in the cabinet, and, at the request of d'Azeglio the vacant office that of Minister of Agriculture, of Commerce and of the Navy was offered to Cavour, who accepted it. Cavour had now an opportunity to give the State the benefit of his business experience.

He set to work at once, and with energy, to reform the financial system of the State, to revise the tariff, and, equally important, to plant the germ of an Italian navy. In a few months the conflict with the Church led to his resignation, and he took the occasion to pay a flying visit to England his second visit to that country, for whose governmental system and policy he early became imbued with the highest admiration. In October, 1852, Cavour was sent for by the King, upon the advice of d'Azeglio, who had decided upon retiring, and was charged with the formation of a new Ministry. The Church question was still uppermost. The Ministry formed by Cavour was compelled soon to resign; but an attempt to form another, more acceptable to the Church party, failed. Cavour was called back by the King, who gave him full power to break with Rome and form an administration, which was immediately done. Cavour became Minister of Finance, and President of the Council. From this time, with the exception of the short period after the peace of Villafranca, Cavour continued to fill the office of Prime Minister until the moment of his death.

Cavour adopted a policy of moderation with a view of gaining the support of all the parties in the State, or at least of lessening the violence of opposition. After a few months he took advantage of a resignation in his cabinet to admit into it, to the dismay of his colleagues, Ratazzi, the leader of the Radical party; and the wisdom of this move was justified by its beneficial effects.

The first years of his administration were devoted almost exclusively to internal reforms, to the revision of the laws, and to the material, moral, and political development of the country. General Lamarmora undertook the reform of the army ; fortifications were restored and gradually put into a state of defense. A line of packets was established between Genoa and America, railroads were extended, the tunnel through Mont Cenis was projected, and treaties of commerce with several nations were concluded. Independently of treaties of commerce, intimate relations were formed with England, and amicable relations with France. In the case of Austria, the "foreigner," the policy was one of expectation of truce, rather than of peace. He had still for a time the Church party to contend with; but the general approbation of his measures so strengthened him with the people that a new election gave him in the Parliament a complete majority, firmly united to him, and directed by their constituents to support him; and henceforward he became the master of the situation, the dictator of the policy of the State.

This brings us to the Crimean war, to the second and most brilliant period in the career of Count Cavour. From the outset of the preparations for this war Cavour was strongly in favor of a treaty which had been urged upon Sardinia by England, and he pursuaded the King of its advisability; but his colleagues in the Cabinet were strongly opposed to it. The King and his Prime Minister carried the day, however, in the Cabinet discussions, and about the middle of December, 1854, Cavour, as Prime Minister, signed a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, between Piedmont on the one side, and England and France on the other, the principal clause of which was that a Piedmontese army should be immediately sent to the Crimea. The ratification of this treaty met with violent opposition in the Chamber of Deputies; but here also, as in the Cabinet, Cavour carried the day.

For this alliance Cavour was, undoubtedly, solely responsible. It is the first act which gives the full measure of his political genius. Apparently Piedmont had not the slightest interest in the war; but Cavour looked beyond the present. His object was to introduce Piedmont into the arena of European politics, to secure for her, as the representative of Italy, recognition among the powers of Europe, and in this he succeeded. Piedmont sent to the Crimea an army of 20,000 men under the command, not of Victor Emmanuel, who had hoped to lead it and was disappointed that this was not deemed advisable, but of General Lamarmora. A victory gained by this army near the close of the war wiped out the disgrace of Novara, and gave the greatest satisfaction to the Piedmontese.

But far more important than this victory was the victory won in Paris by Cavour, as a delegate to the Peace Congress, which met in that city on the termination of the war. Austria was opposed to the admission of the Piedmontese delegate. It was undignified, she said, that the great powers should allow a mischievous little State of only four million of souls to take part in their deliberations. That Piedmont, at the eleventh hour, should with great difficulty have sent a few wretched battalions into the Crimea was no reason why she should be allowed to treat on terms of equality with empires whose armies amounted to hundreds of thou-sands. As for Italy, she had no concern in the matter, besides which she was very sufficiently represented by the Cabinet of Vienna. But England, France still more, and especially Russia, whose least wish was to please Austria, stood firm, and Cavour set off for Paris.

During the first sittings of the Congress, as long as the general conditions of the peace were under discussion, Cavour kept very modestly in the background, showing as much good taste as good policy. He left it to the great Powers to regulate the stipulations which, at the cost of such great sacrifices, they had acquired the right to claim on the one side, or to object to on the other. Called upon, however, in accordance with usage, to express his opinion, he gave it in few words, and without laying stress upon it. He spoke with moderation and precision, and with so great a knowledge of the subject as at once to excite the astonishment of men who, by profession, were bound to be astonished by nothing. It was soon evident that Cavour was a man with whom they would have to reckon. He, on his side, was observing, in the conflict of opinions and interests, the hidden springs that he might one day bring into play.

The conference was drawing to a close, and not a word had been said of Italy. Cavour had refrained from introducing the subject, hoping that someone else might speak of her, knowing that an allusion to her wrongs would carry more weight if made by someone who was not an Italian. He restrained his impatience and waited; and not in vain. In one of the last sittings the President of the Congress, who was charged with the duty of suggesting subjects for deliberation, suddenly directed the attention of the plenipotentiaries to the State of Italy, a State, as he said, threatening the peace of Europe, because of the frequent outbreak of rebellion, the inevitable result of unpopular and oppressive systems of government. He suggested that the Congress should ad-dress a note to the Sovereigns of Italy, counseling them to adopt a more liberal policy in their respective States. Count Buol, the Austrian Deputy, at once protested formally against the introduction of a subject with which the Congress was not competent to deal, and after a brief discussion, the matter was dropped. No action was taken. But Cavour had gained all he had hoped for. In spite of the opposition of Austria, the name of Italy had been inscribed at full length on the public records of Europe.

The first step had been taken toward the execution of a project which Cavour had all along had in view the expulsion of the Austrians from Italy, and her unification and regeneration under the sovereignty of Vic-tor Emmanuel. In order to carry out this grand design, the alliance of one or more of the great powers would be necessary. His preference was for England; but England had found it to her interest in the Peace Congress to court the friendship of Austria, and Cavour learned to his great disappointment, upon visiting Lon-don after the close of the Congress, that his own con-duct in that body had given offense to the English Government. He was compelled, therefore, to turn to France for an ally, as his second choice; and from this time forward he let slip no opportunity of cultivating the friendship of Napoleon.

On returning to Turin, Cavour entered upon the work of strengthening his own position, while at the same time he made preparations for the war which he meant, sooner or later, to force upon Austria. A marked change took place in his policy. Without ceasing to be liberal and constitutional, and to be supported by the majority, his policy became more exclusively Italian; it emanated more specially from himself, and it was more imperiously imposed upon Parliament who obeyed him as a master rather than as a leader. His ulterior purpose was divined, if not openly avowed, and the disposition to give him a free hand became more marked every day. Faith in Cavour spread far and wide. His power became practically autocratic. In Italy at that time there was but one policy it may almost be said, but one religion namely, the will of Cavour. And this will was directed steadily to a single purpose. To isolate Austria was the one end of Cavour's policy as Foreign Minister. He made every effort to win back England to his side; he endeavored to conciliate Prussia; he succeeded in gaining over Russia; and, without any concealment, he befriended the Moldavians, the Wallachians, and the Hungarians all who were enemies of his enemy. At home, as Minister of Finance, he was lavish of public money. The army, the navy, great public works, were increased to an extent quite disproportioned to the resources and real wants of Piedmont. Million after million was voted for the construction of vessels, for the increase of artillery, for additions to the army, for fortifications, for the tunnel through Mont Cenis. Everybody understood the purpose of these extraordinary outlays ; and at last everybody came to wish for the inevitable war, some from enthusiasm and others as a release from intolerable suspense.

Ever since the Congress at Paris Cavour had felt that in a war with Austria he could rely upon the Emperor Napoleon. But in the winter of 1857-8 his plans were seriously imperiled by the attempt of Orsini on the Emperor's life. It was only by passing a bill which defined the crime of political assassination that he re-gained the Emperor's confidence. In the following July he visited the Emperor Napoleon at Plombičres, having traveled thither incognito from Genoa, and concluded with him a secret treaty. The provisions of this treaty, so far as they can be divined from the events which followed, included the creation of a northern Kingdom of Italy, extending from the Alps to the Adriatic, and including the Duchies of Parma and Modena; and, as a return, the annexation of Nice and Savoy to France. A war to be forced upon Austria was, of course, a preliminary to the execution of this treaty.

Cavour returned to Turin to continue and to push forward with all his great energy the work of preparation. While in the midst of this work he received a visit from Garibaldi, who proffered his services. The events of 1848 had brought Garibaldi back to Italy, where he increased his reputation for personal bravery, and also displayed a degree of military capacity for a long time questioned by professional soldiers. At the siege of Rome he had deserved to become the hero of Italy. Garibaldi, in the coming conflict, would be certain to carry with him the majority of the Republicans of Italy; hence Cavour now gladly accepted his offer of service, and agreed to aid him in the enrollment and equipment at Genoa of a thousand volunteers. Yet so strongly opposed was the War Minister to this employment of a Republican and a guerilla, that Cavour had no little difficulty in carrying out his engagement with Garibaldi. As to the claims which Garibaldi and his Republicans might set up on the conclusion of peace, Cavour counted on being able to dispose of them satisfactorily.

The Cabinet of Vienna, harassed by repeated memorials on the subject of its tyranny in Lombardy, complained to Europe that Piedmont was a standing menace to Italian peace, and in the latter part of April, 1859, sent an ultimatum to Turin demanding the disarmament of Sardinia. The hour to strike had now come. On the 8th of May Napoleon declared war against Austria amid the plaudits of Paris, and the enthusiasm of the army. The French at once entered Italy by the Mont Cenis pass, and by sea, landing at Genoa. The Emperor himself took the command-in-chief, and Victor Emmanuel placed himself under his orders. The affairs of Montebello and Palestro secured for the French the passage of the Po. On the 4th of June the French and Sardinians defeated the Austrians at Magenta; and again on the 24th at Solferino. A few days later Napoleon met the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph, at Villafranca, and without consulting his allies arranged with him the preliminary terms of peace.

Bitter indeed was the disappointment of Cavour and the Piedmontese at this unexpected cessation of hostilities. Napoleon had failed to keep his promise, since the peace of Villafranca left Venice still in the hands of Austria. Still, much had been gained, and more was to be added. Tuscany, Modena, Parma, and Romagna declared their determination to join the Kingdom. In March, 1860, the annexation of Central Italy to Sardinia was effected, and approved by the French Emperor. In the South also the cause of Italy had been successful. Garibaldi, with his famous "Thousand," had set out from Genoa directly upon the declaration of war by Napoleon, and landing in Sicily, had proclaimed him-self dictator in the name of Victor Emmanuel. A few days had sufficed for the conquest of Sicily. Thence he had crossed over to the continent, and having defeated the King of Naples, had entered the city on the 7th of September. Here he was joined by Mazzini, and it soon became apparent that under the sway of Republican enthusiasm he designed to march upon Rome. Under these circumstances Cavour, with the sanction of Napoleon, resolved upon sending his troops into the Papal States. General Cialdini occupied Urbino and Perugia, then joining Garibaldi he assisted him to gain a victory over the Bourbon troops on the Volturno. Soon after this Victor Emmanuel appeared in person upon the scene, and Garibaldi, having surrendered his dictatorship, returned to Caprera.

Eighteen months after Villafranca delegates from the whole of Italy, with the exception of Rome and Venice, were assembled at Turin, and took the oath of allegiance to Victor Emmanuel, as their legitimate King. It was no doubt a glorious day for Cavour when, taking his seat in Parliament, he could at length contemplate the work he had accomplished. The sight of so many strange faces must have carried him back to the day when, obscure and unpopular, he for the first time, on the eve of Novara, raised his voice in the Piedmontese Assembly; and as the thought of what had been accomplished in the last twelve years passed through his mind, he must have been full of confidence for the future. He was still in the prime of life--but fifty-one years of age--and he might reasonably hope to have a large share in shaping the future of Italy.

But it was not to be. On the 29th of May, 1861, four months after the scene just referred to, the great statesman went to his home from a long and stormy session of Parliament, weary in body and depressed in spirit, and during the night was taken suddenly and violently ill. An intermittent fever followed, which terminated fatally on the morning of the 6th of June. The last words of Cavour, addressed to Father Giacomo, who had come to administer the supreme unction, were : "Frate, frate, libera chiesa in libero stato" (Brother, brother, a free Church in a free State).

In 1866 Veniee was ceded to Italy by Austria, as one of the conditions of the peace made with Prussia after the battle of Königgratz. When in 187o the victory of Sedan had overthrown the French Emperor, the protectorate established over Rome by Napoleon was held to have come to an end, and Victor Emmanuel took possession of the Papal States. On the 20th of September he entered Rome, which now became his Capital. The life work of Count Cavour was thus finally consummated.

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