Cavour was a superlatively adept practitioner of the brand of diplomacy often called Realpolitik, or the politics of realism and power. As chief minister of Piedmont, he cultivated French and English support, bringing Piedmont into the Crimean War on their side against Russia.
He received no immediate reward, but he finally persuaded Napolean III that the Austrian hold in northern Italy was a denial of the principle of nationality. Thus in 1859 France and Piedmont went to war with Austria. Meantime, sympathetic nationalistic uprisings in Tuscany and the Papal States seemed likely to bring about their merger into an expanding Piedmont. Dismayed by this prospect and by possible Prussian intervention on Austria’s behalf, Napoleon III backed out of the war. At a conference with
Francis Joseph, the Austrian emperor, at Villafranca in July 1859, Napoleon arranged his compromise whereby Lombardy was to go to Piedmont, Venetia was to remain Austrian, and the old arrangements were to be restored in the other states. Cavour resigned in bitter protest.
He had, however, already won. The wave of popular agitation rose higher in northern and central Italy; in Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and the Romagna (the most northerly province of the Papal States) bloodless revolutions and plebiscites demanded annexation to Piedmont.
Early in 1860 Cavour returned to office to manage the annexations and also to pay off Napoleon III by ceding Savoy and Nice to France. He turned next to the rapidly developing situation in the Papal States and the south. In May an expedition outfitted in Piedmontese ports, but not formally acknowledged by Cavour’s government, set out for Naples and Sicily under Garibaldi.
A republican as well as a nationalist agitator, Garibaldi had defended Mazzini’s Roman Republic against a French siege. Cavour deeply distrusted Garibaldi, who he feared might make Italy a republic and so alarm the powers that they would intervene to undo Cavour’s own achievements. Cavour therefore sought to control Garibaldi’s expedition and exploit its success in the interests of his own policy.
Garibaldi and his thousand Red Shirts had relatively little trouble in overcoming the feeble opposition of the Bourbon king in Sicily. Recruits swarmed to his flag. Garibaldi, who had announced his loyalty to Victor Emmanuel, crossed the Straits of Messina to continue his victorious march on the mainland territories of Naples. He had the support of the British prime minister, with the implication that British naval forces might act to block outside intervention against his movement.
Cavour, alarmed lest Garibaldi bring on a new crisis by marching north to take Rome from the pope and offend France and other Catholic powers, sent Piedmontese troops to occupy all the remaining papal territories except Rome and its environs. King Victor Emmanuel soon joined forces with Garibaldi near Naples and assured the triumph of Cavour’s policy. In the autumn of 1860 Sicily, Naples, and the papal domains of Umbria and the Marches voted for union with Piedmont.
The result was the proclamation in March 1861 of the kingdom of Italy—essentially a much enlarged Piedmont-Sardinia, but with Florence as its capital and Victor Emmanuel as its monarch. Territorially, the work of the Risorgimento was almost complete. Only two more major areas were needed—Austrian Venetia and Papal Rome.
Venetia came as a reward for Italy’s siding with Prussia in the brief war of 1866 in which Prussia defeated Austria; Rome came when the Franco-Prussian War forced Napoleon III to withdraw from papal territory. On October 2, 1870, Rome was annexed to the kingdom of Italy and became its capital.