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History HL: Who were the most important figures in Italian Unification?

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Italian Unification was largely influenced by 5 individuals but all of them played different roles with varying degrees of significance. These Individuals were Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II. It is also important to take their intentions into account.


  • He played no role in the revolutions Pre 1848 because he felt that they were counter productive.
  • His main contributions came from when he was in power beginning in 1852.
  • Economic contribution:
    • During the 1850s trade increased 300% in Piedmont.
    • Piedmont had 800km of railway track by 1860 which was one third of all the railway track in Italy at the time. Some of these tracks went through Paris too.
    • Piedmont constituted 39% imports and 27% exports when they were only 20% of the population. 75% of their exports went to France.
  • Diplomatic Contribution:
    • ​Offered troops in the 1854 Crimean War (18000) which led to Piedmont having a significant say in the 1856 treaty of Paris. This resulted in him gaining good relations with Napoleon III. (Who else could he have gone to if Britain had a policy of isolation?)
    • Plombieres meeting (1858) resulted in securing 200,000 troops from France in the 1859 war effort if they could supply 100,000 troops (which they did).
      • If they won, Italy would gain Lombardy. But France would gain Nice and Savoy.
  • Even though he had resigned, his role in expanding Piedmont was clear. Tuscany and the new state of Emilia both voted for annexation by Piedmont with extremely convincing results. In Tuscany it was: 400,000 for and 15000 against. Emilia: 430,000 for and 760 against.
  • Keep in mind: He had no interest in full unification. He thought it was 'rubbish' and unrealistic (since the south were less economically developed than the north.)


  • First main appearance was in 1848 when he helped defend the Roman Republic. He managed to defeat the French army even though he was outnumbered but was later defeated when they called in reinforcements.
  • Unifying the south:
    • April 1860: Heard of the uprising in Sicily. By May, he had 1100 men (usually known as 'Garibaldi's 1000'). In early May he had reached Sicily and his following grew to 3000. Here he took Palermo and declared himself the 'dictator of Sicily' but refused to hand it over to Victor Emmanuel II and Cavour because he wanted to take over Naples. (Cavour refused to give him arms and munitions.
    • September 1860: Declared himself 'dictator of Naples'.
    • Moved onto Rome and claimed he was doing it in the name of 'Italy and Victor Emmanuel'. It resulted in Piedmontese troops being sent by Cavour to stop him but they continued and defeated the Papal army.
    • October 1860: handed all of his land to Victor Emmanuel at the meeting of Teano and left the politics scene. (Though he did make an abysmal attempt to take Rome in 1867)
  • He was a pragmatic character that cared more for Italian unification than his personal political ideology.


  • An important thinker who was quite far ahead of his time in regard to political ideologies.
  • Started 'Young Italy' in 1831 - it recruited Garibaldi.
  • Advocated: A unified Italy, democracy, a republic (instead of a constitutional government).
  • Did not want foreign help since he thought Italy should unify itself through its own efforts. Furthermore, he didn't want Italy to have Austrian influence to be replaced with another.
  • Wanted a progressive tax system. (the more you earn the more you're taxed).
  • His rule in the Roman Republic:
    • Abolished death penalty.
    • Tax reform
    • More newspapers were published.
  • This showed that he was not only a great thinker but his ideas were fairly practical (except for the whole no foreign intervention thing... that just wouldn't work)

Victor Emmanuel II:

VE II is generally included because he was the King of Piedmont. However, his role in the unification was not all that important. It seemed to be that his status as king was more important than anything he did. But a few things can be said:

  • Joined the Crimean War (Cavour didn't want to at first)
  • Popular in Italy.

Napoleon III:

Not all important figures need to be Italian!

  • Offered 200,000 troops in the 1859 war which resulted in the effective expulsion of Austria. Italy gained Lombardy. Without it, as seen in the previous revolutions, this would have been near impossible to happen at any speed.

He did say 'The Empire means peace' in 1853 in a speech in France which gives the impression that he merely wanted to replace Austrian influence with his own. Or weaken Austria's influence on European affairs.


These important characters both influenced and hindered Italian unification in different ways. For example, Napoleon ended the Roman Republic but helped expel Austria while Cavour expanded Piedmont but that's all he seemed to care for. Garibaldi was very important in unifying the south but without regulation he could have resulted in the loss of French support.

Remember to assess them with consideration of their aims and actions otherwise you'll miss important factors that change your opinion of how significant they were towards Italian unification.

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