Important Personalities of Italian Unification

Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898):

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He was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890. In the 1860s he engineered a series of wars that unified the German states, significantly and deliberately excluding Austria, into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership. 

In 1862, King William I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890, He provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France, aligning the smaller German states behind Prussia in its defeat of France. In 1871 he formed the German Empire with himself as Chancellor, while retaining control of Prussia. His diplomacy of realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the “Iron Chancellor.” German unification and its rapid economic growth was the foundation to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when both elite and mass opinion demanded it. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany’s position and used the balance of power to keep Europe at peace in the 1870s and 1880s.

Giuseppe Mazzini (1805 – 1872)

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He was an Italian politician, journalist and activist for the unification of Italy and spearheaded the Italian revolutionary movement. His efforts helped bring about the independent and unified Italy in place of the several separate states, many dominated by foreign powers that existed until the 19th century.

He was a young member of the Carbonari. In 1831 he founded Giovine Italia (Young Italy), an organization devoted to education and insurrection. By 1834 he is under sentence of death in Piedmont, where he has tried to provoke a popular revolution with the help of a sailor in the Sardinian navy, Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Mazzini is a republican, obsessed with the concept of insurrection and by nature disinclined to compromise. His value to the cause in inspirational terms is considerable, but success is more likely to be achieved by the practical realities of politics. This means aiming for a united Italy under one of the existing rulers.

Giuseppe Garibaldi(1807 – 1882)

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He was an Italian general, politician and nationalist who played a large role in the history of Italy.

Garibaldi was a central figure in the Italian Risorgimento, since he personally commanded and fought in many military campaigns that led eventually to the formation of a unified Italy. He was appointed general by the provisional government of Milan in 1848, General of the Roman Republic in 1849 by the Minister of War, and led the Expedition of the Thousand on behalf and with the consent of Victor Emmanuel II.

He has been called the “Hero of Two Worlds” because of his military enterprises in Brazil, Uruguay and Europe. These earned him a considerable reputation in Italy and abroad, aided by exceptional international media coverage at the time. 

Cavour (1810-1861)

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He was an Italian statesman and a leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification. He was the founder of the original Liberal Party and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a position he maintained (except for a six-month resignation) throughout the  Second Italian War of Independence and Garibaldi’s campaigns to unite Italy. After the declaration of a united Kingdom of Italy, Cavour took office as the first Prime Minister of Italy.

After being elected to the Chamber of Deputies, he quickly rose in rank through the Piedmontese government, coming to dominate the Chamber of Deputies through a union of left-center and right-center politicians. After a large rail system expansion program, Cavour became prime minister in 1852.

As prime minister, Cavour successfully negotiated Piedmont’s way through the Crimean War, the Second Italian War of Independence, and Garibaldi’s expeditions, managing to maneuver Piedmont diplomatically to become a new great power in Europe, controlling a nearly united Italy that was five times as large as Piedmont had been before he came to power.

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