Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour


Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, born in Turin on August 10, 1810 and died in the same city on June 6, 1861, was a Piedmontese statesman, an important supporter and actor of Italian unity. He is considered, along with Giuseppe Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II and Giuseppe Mazzini, as one of the “fathers of the Italian fatherland”.

Cavour was one of the main characters of the Risorgimento. Although he did not have a pre-established plan for the unity of Italy, he succeeded in rallying the majority of Italian patriots around the kingdom of Sardinia and in managing the events that led to the formation of the kingdom of Italy. He openly opposed the republican ideas of Giuseppe Mazzini, enemy of kings and unyielding conspirator, and was often in conflict with Giuseppe Garibaldi, whose actions and revolutionary potential he feared.

He was Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1850 to 1852, Head of Government from 1852 to 1859 and from 1860 to 1861. In 1861, with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, he became the very first President of the Council (Prime Minister) of the new Italian state. Suffering from malaria, he died 2 months and 13 days after taking office.

In domestic politics, he supported the adoption and defense of the Statute of Alberta. A supporter of liberal and reformist ideas, leader of the moderate right, he signed an agreement (Connubio, synonymous with “marriage”, in an ironic sense) with the monarchical left of Urbano Rattazzi to implement reforms that excluded the extreme wings of the Parliament. He abolished a large number of religious congregations, which attracted the hostility of Pope Pius IX.

In the economic sphere, Cavour promoted free trade with neighboring states, overhauled the tax system, encouraged cooperation between the public and private sectors, and launched major industrial investments in the textile sector as well as in railroads to connect the Italian and French lines. He modernized agriculture through the use of fertilizers and irrigation in order to put an end to the frequent famines.

In foreign policy, he skillfully cultivated friendship with the liberal monarchies: the United Kingdom and France of the Second Empire. Thanks to the firm commitment of Napoleon III, he obtained the territorial expansion of Piedmont in the North of Italy to the detriment of Austria, then, by plebiscites, of the duchies of Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and finally by conquest of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papal States.

Family and Youth

Camillo Cavour was born on August 10, 1810 in Turin, a city then attached to the France of the First Empire.

His father, Michele Benso de Cavour, a Catholic nobleman from Piedmont, was a collaborator and friend of the governor and prince Camille Borghese, who was the godfather of the little Benso and to whom he passed on his first name. Camillo”s mother, Adele de Sellon (1780 – 1846), belonged to a rather well-to-do Calvinist family of Geneva, which had reached a notable position in the city”s bourgeoisie. His paternal grandmother, Philippine de Sales (1761 – 1849), was the great-grandniece of Saint Francis de Sales.

Camillo spent most of his life at the Cavour Palace in Turin, and his mother tongue, French, remained his means of expression in private throughout his life; he used Italian only in his public life. He was first educated by a tutor, the abbot Frezet. As a member of the nobility, Cavour attended the 5th course of the Royal Military Academy of Turin in his youth, which he completed at the end of 1825. Appointed at fourteen years old page of the prince of Carignan thanks to the relations of his father, he saw this function, supposed to be an honor, more as a servitude. During the winter of 1826-1827, thanks to the courses of the School of Application of the Royal Corps of Engineers of Turin, he became a lieutenant of the corps of engineers. At the end of his military training, he presented a thesis entitled: Esposizione compita dell”origine, teoria, pratica, ed effetti del tiro di rimbalzo tanto su terra che sull”acqua and subtitled: Dalle Regie scuole teoriche e pratiche di Artiglieria e Fortificazione alla Scuola d”applicazione di Artiglieria e Genio , in Turin.

In 1828, he participated in fortification work in the Alps (Ventimiglia, Exilles, l”Esseillon). The young man soon devoted himself, through personal interest and family education, to the cause of European progress. Among his readings, one finds the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, whose doctrine he approaches for the first time in 1829. That year, he read his Treatise on Criminal and Civil Legislation, which stated the political principle: “The measure of right and wrong is only the greatest happiness of the greatest number”. The other concept of Bentham is that any problem can lead to measurable facts, which brings to Cavour”s realism a useful theoretical basis to his inclination towards mathematical analysis.

In 1830, he hoped that the July revolution in France would encourage the liberalization of the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. The same year, he moved to Genoa; the officer Camillo Benso met the marquise Anna Giustiniani, with whom he lived a real passion and who remained faithful to him until his death. Sent to the fort of Bard, in the Aosta Valley, because of his political opinions, he resigned from the army on November 12, 1831.

At the age of twenty-two, Cavour was appointed mayor of Grinzane, where the family had property, and he held this position until 1848. In December 1834 he traveled abroad, studying the economic development of more industrialized countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Switzerland, France and United Kingdom

In December 1834 Cavour went to Geneva, the place of origin of his maternal family. There he attended various university courses on economics, history, and physics, constituting the range of teachings that form the cultural tradition of the eighteenth century.

Accompanied by his friend Pietro di Santarosa, Cavour, in February 1835, reached Paris, where he stayed for almost two and a half months. During this period, he visited hospitals, prisons, schools and public institutions of all types. He frequented legitimist circles favorable to the Bourbons, but also those who were politically closest to him, namely the supporters of the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. On this occasion, he met men he admired, such as the future President of the Council François Guizot.

He left Paris on May 9, 1835 and arrived in London, where he met other personalities he wanted to know, such as the reformer Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890) and Alexis de Tocqueville. As in Paris, he was interested in social issues, visiting hospitals and prisons, and came into contact with the most concrete aspects of the industrial revolution. In May, Cavour left, still in the company of Santarosa, for a tour of England and Wales. He visited Windsor, Oxford, Birmingham, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Cambridge, after which, on July 3, 1835, he returned to France. During his travels in Paris, Camillo became friends with the woman of letters Melanie Waldor, whom he made his mistress.

He visits Belgium, the Germanic Confederation and Switzerland. There he confirmed his interest in parliamentary democracy and modernity, especially in the first railroads. On his return, he became the steward of his father”s estate in Leri.

Cavour”s interest and enthusiasm for the progress of industry, for political economy and for free trade were unreserved and always growing. This period also saw the strengthening of his Europeanism, which led him to predict: “The injustice inflicted on other nations will end up not being considered as good patriotism”. This period was decisive for the formation of Cavour”s political thought, which, between the ages of twenty and thirty, also developed a propensity for conservatism, in opposition to the revolutionary events. As for religion, he recognized its important function, but only as a stage of development that his bourgeois culture had already passed. Christianity remains for him, above all, an ethical teaching.

The salons of intellectuals

In 1837, Cavour made another trip to Geneva and Lyon. Back in Paris to complete the estate of his uncle Clermont-Tonnerre, he met King Louis-Philippe and frequented the social circles. He repeated the trip in 1840. During his stays in France in 1842-1843, it was the salons of intellectuals that occupied him.

He assiduously attended the Sorbonne and met writers such as Alexandre Dumas, Sainte-Beuve and Prosper Mérimée, the philosopher Victor Cousin, and above all the ministers and dignitaries of the Louis-Philippe monarchy, for whom he had a great admiration: Adolphe Thiers, Louis-Mathieu Molé and Étienne-Denis Pasquier. He attended parliamentary sessions, the spectacle of which reinforced his esteem for Guizot and Tocqueville, and he came into contact with members of French high finance.

Cavour also continued to hold the United Kingdom in high regard, where in 1843 he managed to enter one of the most important salons of the London aristocracy, that of the Wigh Party of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice of Lansdowne. France and the United Kingdom remain for him a political example.

From landowner to Member of Parliament (1843-1850)

Between his return from his foreign travels in August 1843 and his entry into the government in October 1850, Cavour devoted himself to a vast series of initiatives in the fields of agriculture, industry, finance and politics. A great landowner, he contributed, as early as May 1842, to the creation of the Associazione agraria (the “agrarian association”), which proposed to promote the best agricultural techniques and policies, also by means of a Gazzetta which, at the end of August 1843, published an article written by the Count on the creation of model farms.

In the autumn of 1843, with the help of Giacinto Corio, Cavour, busy with the management activity and particularly that of the Leri properties, took care of the improvement in the sector of cattle breeding, fertilizers and agricultural machinery. In seven years (that of corn triples.

In order to integrate innovations into agricultural production, Cavour also took decisions of an industrial nature, with results that were considered more or less good. Among the most important initiatives was his participation in the creation of the Società anonima dei molini anglo-americani di Collegno in 1850, of which he became the main shareholder before the company took a leading position in the country after Italian unification. The important business relations in Turin, Chivasso and Genoa, and above all the friendship of the banker De La Rüe, allowed him to reach a privileged position compared to other owners and to seize important opportunities. In 1847, for example, he realized a clear increase in his income due to the poor cereal harvest in Europe, which led to an increase in demand, raising prices to unusual levels.

In addition to his interventions in the Gazzetta of the Associazione agraria, Cavour devoted himself to writing essays on the progress of industrialization and free trade in the United Kingdom and their effects on the economy and on Italian society. Above all, he praised the railroads as instruments of civil progress which, rather than insurrectionary movements, were beneficial to the national cause. In this regard, he emphasized the importance of two railroad lines: Turin-Venice and Turin-Ancona.

Without any need for a revolution, the progress of Christian civilization and the development of the Enlightenment would, according to Cavour, lead to a political crisis from which Italy would benefit. He believed in progress, mainly intellectual and moral, because it was born of the dignity and creative capacity of man. This belief was accompanied by the idea that economic freedom went hand in hand with the general interest and that it was intended to favor all social classes. On the basis of these two principles, the value of nationality emerges:

“The history of all times proves that no nation can reach a high degree of intelligence and morality without a strongly developed sense of its nationality: in a people that cannot be proud of its nationality, the sense of personal dignity will exist only exceptionally in a few privileged individuals. The most populous classes who occupy the humblest positions in the social sphere need to feel great from the national point of view in order to acquire a consciousness of their dignity.”

– Camillo Cavour, Railroads, 1846

By the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which accompanied the fall of Napoleon I, and which was largely orchestrated by the Austrian Prime Minister, Metternich, the Italian peninsula found itself divided into multiple small states, most often under Austrian domination; this was the case for the large cities of the North, Milan and Venice, which were grouped together in the Lombard-Venetian Kingdom, the Duchy of Parma, the Duchy of Modena and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Kingdom of Sardinia, whose monarchs came from the House of Savoy and chose Turin as their capital, in Piedmont, retained its sovereignty.

The return of absolute monarchies in Europe revived the desire for freedom and in 1820 the peninsula was confronted with the first uprisings organized by the Carbonari association, some of which were led by the republican Mazzini, soon followed by Garibaldi. Mazzini was opposed not only to the Austrian presence but also to the royalty. These insurrections, in which mainly students, soldiers and the young bourgeoisie took part, excluding the popular masses, did not succeed, with a few exceptions, in imposing themselves and were harshly repressed. Louis-Napoleon, the future Napoleon III, affiliated with the Italian Charcoal Industry, was involved in the 1831 uprisings in the Papal States, and he retained a deep attachment to Italy.

These events form the prelude to the spring of the people and it is in this climate of revolt that Cavour rises politically by employing all the means to appease the revolutionary impulse that puts in danger the monarchy; he supports the proposal of a constitution and the armed confrontation with Austria. The kingdom of Sardinia engaged in the first of the three wars of independence that would lead to the unity of Italy.

In 1847, Cavour made his official appearance on the political scene as the founder, with the liberal Catholic Cesare Balbo, of the newspaper Risorgimento, which he took over as editor. The newspaper, established thanks to a relaxation of censorship by King Charles Albert, spoke out in January 1848 more than others in favor of a constitution. This position, which was also Cavour”s, was taken at the same time as the fall of the July Monarchy in France on February 24, 1848, and thus the Count”s political reference in Europe disappeared.

In this atmosphere, on March 4, 1848, Charles Albert promulgated the Statute of Albert. This constitution disappointed liberal public opinion, but not Cavour, who announced an important electoral law establishing a commission headed by Cesare Balbo, of which he was a member. This law remained in force after some adjustments until the electoral reform of the Kingdom of Italy in 1882.

With the return of the republic in France, the revolution in Vienna and Berlin, the insurrection in Milan and the uprising in Piedmont and Liguria, Cavour, fearing that the constitutional system could become a victim of the revolutionaries, put himself at the head of an interventionist movement urging the king to go to war against Austria and to mobilize public opinion

On March 23, 1848, Charles Albert declared war on Austria. After the first successes, the course of the conflict changed and the old military aristocracy of the kingdom was exposed to strong criticism. After the first defeats, Cavour demanded that the culprits be found who, in his opinion, had betrayed Italy. The poor conduct of the war convinced him that Piedmont could not be safe until the powers of the state were controlled by men of liberal persuasion.

On April 27, 1848, the first elections of the new constitutional regime took place. Cavour, thanks to his activity as a political journalist, was a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament and was initially defeated, then elected, on June 26, 1848 in the substitute elections. On June 30, 1848, he entered the Chamber (Palazzo Carignano) taking place on the right benches. Faithful to the interests of Piedmont, which he saw threatened by the radical forces of Genoa and Lombardy, Cavour opposed both the executive of Cesare Balbo and his Milanese successor, Gabrio Casati (1798-1863). However, when, after the defeat of Custoza, the Casati government asked for full powers in order to better manage the gravity of the situation, Cavour decided to support it. The facts are precipitous: first there is the abandonment of Milan to the Austrians and then the armistice signed by Salasco on August 9, 1848.

At the end of this first phase of the war, the government of Cesare di Sostegno, and the following one of Ettore di San Martino, engaged on the way of the diplomacy. Both were supported by Cavour, who strongly criticized Vincenzo Gioberti, who was still determined to fight Austria. On October 20, 1848, in his first major parliamentary speech, Cavour declared himself in favor of postponing hostilities, entrusting diplomatic mediation to the United Kingdom, which was worried about the rise of Germany and therefore favorable to the Italian cause. With Cavour”s support, the moderate line of the San Martino government passed, but the weakness of the government, on a minor issue, forced it to resign on December 3, 1848.

Unable to form another ministerial team, King Charles Albert entrusted the post to Gioberti, whose government, which took office on December 15, 1848, was considered by Cavour to be “purely left-wing”. The elections of January 22, 1849 took place, to the detriment of the Count who, after a ballot, was defeated. The majority of the political spectrum, however, was too heterogeneous to face the difficulties of the country, always suspended between war and peace, and Gioberti had to resign on February 21, 1849. Radically changing policy in the face of the revolutionary crisis, which he perceived as dangerous, Cavour decided to resume hostilities against Austria. The defeat of Novara (March 23, 1849) precipitates him again in the torment.

The serious defeat of Piedmont led on March 23, 1849 to the abdication of Charles Albert in favor of his son Victor-Emmanuel. The latter, openly opposed to his father”s political alliance with the left, replaced the government of the democrats, who were calling for all-out war, with an executive led by General Gabriele de Launay, who was welcomed by Cavour. The government regained control of the city of Genoa, which had rebelled against the monarchy, before being replaced by that of Massimo d”Azeglio, whose vision of Piedmont as a bastion of Italian freedom Cavour accepted.

The elections of July 15, 1849 brought to the government, again, a majority, although weak, of democrats. Cavour was re-elected, but D”Azeglio convinced Victor Emmanuel II to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, and on November 20, 1849, the king issued the Moncalieri Proclamation, in which he invited his people to elect more moderate candidates who were not in favor of a new war. On December 9, the Assembly, which finally voted massively in favor of peace, was elected. Among those elected was Cavour who, in the district of Turin I, obtained 307 votes against 98.

During this period, Cavour distinguished himself as a talented financier. He played a leading role in the merger of the Bank of Genoa and the new Bank of Turin into the National Bank of the Sardinian States (Banca Nazionale degli Stati Sardi). After the electoral success of December 1849, Cavour also became one of the dominant figures in Piedmontese politics and took on the role of spokesman for the moderate majority that had just been created. From this position, he argued that the time for reform had arrived, favored by the Statute of Alberta, which had created real prospects for progress. Piedmont could thus distance itself from the Catholic and reactionary front, which was triumphant in the rest of Italy.

To this end, the first step was the promulgation of the Siccardi laws (April 9, 1850 and June 5, 1850), which abolished the various privileges of the clergy in Piedmont, opening a phase of confrontation with the Holy See; serious incidents, both on the part of D”Azeglio and of Pius IX, took place as a result. Among these, there is the refusal to give the extreme unction to the friend of Cavour, Pietro di Santarosa, died on August 5, 1850. By all means, Cavour rebelled against the clergy, obtaining the expulsion of the Order of the Servites of Mary of Turin, in which the priest who had refused to give the sacraments was active, and probably also influencing the decision to arrest the Archbishop of Turin, Luigi Fransoni.

Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1850-1852)

With the death of Santarosa, who occupied the post of Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, Cavour, strengthened by the leading role he had taken in those days of anticlerical battles and the recognition of his technical competence, was designated as the natural successor of the deceased minister. Convinced by some deputies, the President of the Council D”Azeglio and Victor-Emmanuel II (encouraged by General La Marmora), agreed to entrust the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce to Cavour, who was sworn in on October 11, 1850. Victor-Emmanuel commented to his ministers: “I am willing, but remember that he will take all your portfolios”.

Among the first tasks carried out by Camillo Benso, it is necessary to note the renewal of the treaty of commerce with France, marked by free trade. The agreement, which was not particularly interesting for Piedmont, had to be supported by political motives in order to be approved, even if Cavour recalled that any reduction in customs was an advantageous operation for him. After having approached the question of the treaties of trade, the count begins negotiations with Belgium and the United Kingdom. With the two countries, he obtained and granted customs arrangements facilitating trade. The two treaties, concluded respectively on January 24, 1851 and February 27, 1851, were the first acts testifying to Cavour”s commercial liberalism.

These two agreements, with which he obtained a broad parliamentary success, opened the way to a general reform of customs duties, the law of which was promulgated on July 14, 1851. Meanwhile, other trade treaties were signed between March and June with Greece, the Hanseatic cities, the German Customs Union, Switzerland and the Netherlands. With 114 votes for and 23 against, the Chamber even adopted a similar treaty with Austria, concluding the first phase of Cavour”s customs policy, which achieved for Piedmont the transition from protectionism to free trade.

During the same period, Cavour was entrusted with the Ministry of the Navy in which he distinguished himself by his innovative ideas and entered into disagreement with the senior officers, most of whom were reactionaries who opposed the introduction of steamships. On the other hand, the troops were very undisciplined and Cavour”s intention was to make the Sardinian navy a professional corps like that of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

During the delicate phase of the parliamentary debate for the approval of the commercial treaties with the United Kingdom and Belgium, Cavour threatened to leave the government if they did not abandon the habit of entrusting the office of Minister of Finance to a deputy (in this case Giovanni Nigra (1798-1865)). On April 19, 1851, Cavour replaced Nigra, keeping all the other ministerial offices. There were then serious disagreements between D”Azeglio and Cavour, who, in the end, obtained the ministry.

The government in Turin was in desperate need of liquidity, mainly for the indemnities imposed by the Austrians after the war of independence, and Cavour, with his skill and contacts, seemed to be the man to manage the delicate situation. The kingdom of Sardinia was already heavily indebted to the Rothschilds and Cavour wanted to remove the country from this dependence. After several unsuccessful attempts with the Bank of Baring, he obtained a large loan from the small Hambros Bank.

In this regard, in August 1851 he received proposals from British agencies for the construction of the Suse-Turin and Novara-Turin railroad lines. The projects became laws on June 14, 1852 and July 11, 1852 respectively. He granted to the shipowner Raffaele Rubattino the subsidized navigation line between Genoa and Sardinia and to Genoese groups the exploitation of mines and salt works in Sardinia. He promoted great projects such as the creation of the Transatlantic Company in Genoa or the creation of the Ansaldo company, the future steam locomotive factory.

Driven by the desire to obtain the office of head of government and no longer supporting D”Azeglio”s policy of alliance with the clerical right, Cavour, at the beginning of 1852, took the initiative of making an agreement, the connubio, with the center left of Urbano Rattazzi. With the convergent votes of the deputies led by Cavour and those of the center left, Rattazzi won the presidency of the Chamber of Parliament on May 11, 1852.

The President of the Council D”Azeglio, opposed like Victor-Emmanuel II to Cavour”s political maneuvering, resigned, obtaining the renewal of the mandate by the king. The government that emerged, on May 21, 1852, was very weak and dismissed Cavour, whom D”Azeglio replaced with Luigi Cibrario.

In Great Britain and France (1852)

Before the resumption of political struggles, Cavour left Turin on June 26, 1852, to learn from abroad what would influence his economic and industrial policy. Gioberti made the following judgment about Cavour: “Cavour is not rich in Italianity. On the contrary, by the feelings, the instincts, the knowledge, it is almost foreign to Italy: English by the ideas, French by the language”. On July 8, he was in London where he was interested in the latest developments in industry and made contact with businessmen, farmers and industrialists. He visited factories and arsenals. He stayed in the British capital until August 5 and left for Wales and the North of England, where he visited the manufacturing districts, and then went to Scotland. In London or in their country houses, he met British politicians of various parties. He met the Foreign Secretary Malmesbury, but also Palmerston, Clarendon, Disraeli, Cobden, Lansdowne and Gladstone.

Cavour continued his journey and crossed the English Channel to Paris, where he arrived on August 29, 1852. In the French capital, Louis Napoleon was president of the Second Republic (he was not proclaimed emperor until December 2, 1852). The attention of the Count, who was joined by his ally Rattazzi, was focused on the new French ruling class with whom he had made contact. They then went to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Drouyn de Lhuys, and, on September 5, they dined with the Prince-President Louis-Napoleon. They came out confident for the future of Italy

The first Cavour government (1852-1855)

Cavour follows two objectives, he engages fiscal, economic and political reforms intended to make of the kingdom of Sardinia a modern state and the bringing together with a big nation because the first war of independence was a failure because of the difference of means of the two belligerents and it appears evident, for the Piedmontese policy, that it is necessary to find a powerful ally what Napoleon III constitutes, anxious to counter the Austrian power.

Cavour left for Turin, which he returned to on October 16, 1852, after an absence of over three months. On October 22, 1852, D”Azeglio, at the head of a weak executive that chose to pursue an anticlerical policy, resigned. On November 4 of the same year, supported by the men of the connubio, who now represented the most modern liberalism in Piedmont, and strengthened by a broad consensus, Cavour was approached to become, for the first time, President of the Council.

Victor Emmanuel II asked Cavour to form a new government on condition that the Count negotiate, with the Papal States, the pending questions, notably that of the introduction of civil marriage in Piedmont. Cavour refused and proposed Cesare Balbo as D”Azeglio”s successor. Balbo did not find common ground with the representative of the right, Ottavio Thaon di Revel, and the king was forced to recall Cavour. Cavour then agreed to form a new government on November 2, 1852, promising that the law on civil marriage would take its normal course through the parliamentarians without a vote of confidence.

Two days after the formation of his first government, Cavour worked passionately in favor of the law on civil marriage, which, however, was rejected by the Senate, forcing the Count to renounce it definitively. Meanwhile, the republican movement, led by Giuseppe Mazzini, continued to worry Cavour; on February 6, 1853, a riot broke out against the Austrians in Milan, and the Count, fearing that the phenomenon would spread to Piedmont, had several Mazzinians arrested, including Francesco Crispi. This decision aroused the hostility of the left, especially when the Austrians thanked him for the arrests, but, when on February 13, the government of Vienna pronounced the confiscation of the goods of the Lombard refugees in Piedmont, Cavour protested vigorously, recalling his ambassador.

The main objective of Cavour”s first government was the financial restoration of the country. In an attempt to regain balance, the Count took several measures: first, he was forced to resort once again to the Rothschild bankers, and then, referring to the French system, he replaced the declaration of income with that of a judicial audit. He also made important interventions in the sector of state concessions and public services. Finally, he resumed the policy of developing credit institutes.

On the other hand, the government is making large investments in railroads, at a time when, thanks to customs reform, exports are increasing considerably. Despite this, there was strong resistance to the introduction of new property taxes, which generally affected the social class that made up the Parliament. Cavour, in fact, was never able to achieve the political conditions that would allow a good financial basis for his initiatives.

On December 19, 1853, there was talk of a “restoration of finances”, even though the situation was more serious than had been announced, including the international crisis that preceded the Crimean War. Cavour therefore reached an agreement with the Rothschilds for a loan, but he also succeeded in placing a large part of the debt he had contracted with a public of savers, with great political and financial success.

There was no lack of political consensus. In the elections of December 8, 1853, 130 candidates of the governmental majority were elected, 52 from the left and 22 from the right. Nevertheless, to reply to the election of the main political opponents, Valerio, Brofferio, Pareto to the left and Solaro della Margarita to the right, the count develops a political offensive aimed at the judicial organization. He was also determined to recover a part of the left and to resume the anticlerical policy. In this respect, the Minister of Justice Urbano Rattazzi, at the opening of the V Legislature, presented a bill modifying the penal code. The core of the proposal consisted of new penalties for priests who, abusing their ministry, opposed the laws and institutions of the State. The regulation was passed in the House by a large majority with a large number of votes from the left and, with greater difficulty, also by the Senate. Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Code of Civil Procedure were subsequently also adopted.

In 1853, a European crisis developed, stemming from a religious conflict between the Ottoman Empire, already in decline, and Russia, which aspired to the protection of Christians among the Turkish peoples of the Balkans. These aspirations provoked the hostility of the British government, which suspected Russia of wanting to conquer Constantinople and interrupt the land route to British India. France, eager to end its isolation, aligned itself with the United Kingdom. On November 1, 1853, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire and on March 28, 1854, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Russia. The question, for political opportunities that may arise, begins to interest Cavour. In April 1854, he responded to the request of the British ambassador, Sir James Hudson, stating that the Kingdom of Sardinia would intervene in the conflict if Austria also attacked Russia, so as not to expose Piedmont to the Hapsburg army.

The satisfaction of the British was clear, but throughout the summer of 1854, Austria remained neutral. Finally, on November 29, 1854, the British foreign minister Clarendon wrote to Hudson to ask him to do his utmost to secure a Piedmontese expeditionary force. A superfluous incitement, because Cavour had already come to the conclusion that the English and French requests, the latter made at the beginning of the crisis to Victor-Emmanuel II, should be satisfied. He decided to opt for intervention, raising the perplexity of the Minister of War La Marmora and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Giuseppe Dabormida (1799-1869), who resigned.

Assuming also the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs, the count, on January 26, 1855, signed the definitive adhesion of the kingdom of Sardinia to the Anglo-French treaty. Piedmont had to provide 15,000 men and the allied powers guaranteed the integrity of the kingdom of Sardinia from a possible Austrian attack. On March 4, 1855, Cavour declared war on Russia, and on April 25, the Piedmontese contingent left La Spezia for the Crimea, where it arrived in early May. Piedmont reaped the benefits of the expedition during the second war of independence four years later. This operation restored the prestige of the Sardinian army and created bonds of brotherhood of arms between the French and the Piedmontese.

With the intention of getting closer to the left and to hinder the conservative right that was gaining ground due to the economic crisis, the Cavour government, on November 28, 1854, presented the law on convents to the Chamber. The law, because of its anticlerical liberalism, provided for the abolition of religious orders, with the exception of those dedicated to teaching and assisting the sick. During the parliamentary debate, Cavour attacked, in particular, the mendicant orders that he declared harmful for the morality of the country and contrary to the modern work ethics.

The Count”s strong majority in the Chamber had to face the opposition of the clergy, the king and above all the Senate, which in the first instance rejected the law. Cavour resigned on April 27, 1855, opening a constitutional crisis, called the “Calabiana crisis” after the bishop of Casale, Luigi di Calabiana, senator and opponent of the bill.

The second Cavour government (1855-1859)

A few days after his resignation, and given the impossibility of forming a new government, on May 4, 1855, Cavour was recalled by the king as President of the Council. After several days of discussion, during which Cavour emphasized that “today”s society has labor as its economic basis,” the law on convents was approved, with an amendment that left the religious in place until the natural extinction of their community. Following the approval of the law on convents, on July 26, 1855, Pius IX excommunicated those who had presented, approved and ratified the measure, including Cavour and Victor Emmanuel II.

The Crimean War won by the allies ended in 1856 with the Congress of Paris, in which Austria also participated. Cavour did not obtain territorial compensation for his participation in the conflict, but a session was devoted expressly to discussing the Italian problem. On this occasion, on April 8, the British foreign minister Clarendon severely attacked the anti-liberal policy, both in the Papal States and in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which raised protests from the Austrian minister Karl Buol.

Much more moderate, on the same day, the intervention of Cavour remained concentrated on the denunciation of the presence of the Austrian troops in the pontifical Romagna. The fact is that for the first time the Italian question is considered at the European level as a situation that requires changes in the face of the grievances of the population. Relations between the United Kingdom, France and Piedmont were excellent. Back in Turin, because of the results obtained in Paris, Cavour, on April 29, 1856, received the highest distinction awarded by the House of Savoy: the collar of the Annunziata. The same Congress, however, pushed the Count to make important decisions, namely to make his choice, either with France or with Great Britain.

Following the Paris decisions, the question of the two Danube principalities was raised. Moldavia and Wallachia, according to the United Kingdom, Austria and Turkey should have remained divided under the control of the Ottoman Empire. For France, Prussia and Russia, they should unite (in the future kingdom of Romania) and establish themselves as an independent state. Cavour and the Kingdom of Sardinia were in favor of this position and declared themselves in favor of unification.

The reaction of Great Britain against the position of Piedmont is very severe. But Cavour had already made up his mind, and between the dynamism of French politics and the conservatism of the United Kingdom, the Count chose France. Moreover, as early as 1852, he said: “It is on France above all that our destinies depend”. On the other hand, Austria was more and more isolated and an episode was going to contribute to consolidate this situation that the count knew how to exploit. On February 10, 1857, the government of Vienna accuses the press of fomenting the revolt in Piedmont against Austria, and the Cavour government of complicity. The count rejected all the accusations and, on March 22, Buol recalled his ambassador, followed the next day by a similar measure from Piedmont. Thus Austria used the press to justify the rupture of the relations with the small kingdom of Sardinia, exposing itself to the reprobative comments of all the European diplomatic offices, including English, while in Italy, a movement of sympathy is manifested majority for Piedmont.

Improving economy and falling consensus

From 1855 onwards, Piedmont”s economy improved thanks to good cereal harvests and a reduction in the trade deficit. Encouraged by these results, in 1857 Cavour relaunched the railway policy with the construction of the Mont Cenis railway tunnel, with the aim of connecting the French and Italian networks.

On July 16, 1857, the Fifth Legislature ended prematurely, in a situation that, despite the economic improvement, seemed unfavorable to Cavour. There was, in fact, discontent generated by the increase in fiscal pressure, the sacrifices made for the Crimean War and the anti-government mobilization of the Catholic world. The result was that in the elections of November 15, 1857, Cavour”s liberal center won 90 seats (compared to 130 in the previous legislature), 75 going to the right (instead of 22) and 21 to the left (instead of 52). The success of the clergy exceeded the most pessimistic forecasts of the majority. Cavour decided to stay in office and the liberal press railed against the right, denouncing the pressure of the clergy on the voters. A parliamentary control was put in place and new elections were held for some seats, which reversed the trend: the liberal center went to 105 seats and the right to 60.

The political jolt provoked however the sacrifice of Rattazzi, previously passed to the ministry of the Interior. He was not liked by France, having shown himself unable to stop Mazzini, considered dangerous for the life of Napoleon III. Rattazzi, on January 13, 1858 resigned and Cavour assured the interim of the Ministry of the Interior.

The strategy against Austria and the annexation of Lombardy

Cavour succeeded in extracting the commitment of France on the side of the kingdom of Sardinia in exchange for territories, Savoy and Nice, but Napoleon III did not keep all of his commitments, ending the war unilaterally and without freeing Venice. The process of unification was nevertheless initiated, but its continuation remained fragile, with Piedmont acting alone and sometimes against the interests of its former ally.

After having attracted the attention of the European powers, with the Congress of Paris, on the Italian question, Cavour considered it necessary to negotiate the support of the France of Napoleon III, conservative in domestic politics, but promoter of a foreign policy of grandeur. After a long series of negotiations, made difficult by the assassination attempt of Felice Orsini on Napoleon III, in July 1858 the secret agreements of Plombières between Cavour and the French emperor against the Austrian Empire were ratified. These agreements provided that, after a war that would be victorious against Austria, the Italian peninsula would be divided into four main states linked in a confederation presided over by the Pope: the kingdom of Upper Italy under Victor Emmanuel II, the kingdom of Central Italy, the Papal States limited to Rome and its surroundings and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Florence and Naples would pass into the French sphere of influence.

The agreements of Plombières were ratified the following year by the Franco-Sardinian alliance, according to which, in the event of military attack on the part of Vienna, France would intervene in order to defend the kingdom of Sardinia with the objective of freeing Lombardy-Venetia from Austrian domination to give it to Piedmont. In return, France would receive the territories of Nice and Savoy, the cradle of the Savoy dynasty and, as such, dear to Victor-Emmanuel II. After the signing of the agreements, Cavour went through a long and turbulent period during which the Piedmontese Prime Minister had to face a parliamentary committee that secretly questioned him about the details of the alliance: Cavour denied that Savoy and Nice were the subject of the negotiations. He made a loan of 50 million Sardinian lire to complete the armament of Piedmont and set up a series of military provocations at the border with Austria, which, frightened, launched an ultimatum asking him to disarm his army within three days. The count refused and Austria opened the hostilities against Piedmont, on April 26, 1859, which started the execution of the conditions of the Franco-Sardinian alliance. On April 29, 1859, the Austrians crossed the border into Ticino, and on the same day the French crossed the Alps.

Despite the victories of Magenta and Solferino, the considerable losses on both sides convinced Napoleon III, by a unilateral act, to sign an armistice with Austria at Villafranca, on July 11, 1859, then to ratify the peace treaty in Zurich, on November 11. The clauses of the treaty foresee that Victor-Emmanuel II would receive only Lombardy and, for the remainder, that all would be restored as previously. Cavour, disappointed and embittered by the clauses of the armistice, after heated discussions with Napoleon III and Victor-Emmanuel, decided to resign as President of the Council, causing his government to fall on July 12, 1859. He said to François Pietri, private secretary of Napoleon III: “Your Emperor has disgraced me. But I tell you, this peace will not be made! This treaty will not be carried out, I will take Solaro della Margherita by one hand, and Mazzini by the other, if necessary. I will make myself a conspirator. I will make myself revolutionary. But this treaty will not be carried out”. Rattazzi was responsible for the new government from July 19, 1859 to January 16, 1860, when he resigned and was replaced by Cavour on January 20.

The third Cavour government (1860-1861)

During the war, the governments and forces of the small Italian states of the center and the north and of the pontifical Romagna abandoned their posts and, everywhere, provisional pro-Sardinian authorities were set up. After the peace of Zurich, a status quo was reached because the provisional governments refused to return power to the former rulers; the government of La Marmora did not have the courage to proclaim the annexation of the territories to the kingdom of Sardinia. On December 22, 1859, Victor-Emmanuel II resigned himself to recall Cavour who, in the meantime, had created the party of the Liberal Union.

The Count returned to the presidency of the Council of Ministers on January 21, 1860; he was soon confronted with a French proposal for a settlement of the liberated territories: the annexation to Piedmont of the duchies of Parma and Modena, the control of the House of Savoy over the Papal Romagna, a separate kingdom in Tuscany under the leadership of a member of the House of Savoy, and the transfer of Nice and Savoy to France. In case of refusal of the proposal, Piedmont would have had to face the situation alone against Austria, “at its own risk and peril”.Compared to the agreements of the Franco-Sardinian alliance, this proposal abandoned the annexation of Veneto, which was not freed from Austrian occupation. With the annexation of Parma, Modena and Romagna established, Cavour, with the support of the United Kingdom, defied France over Tuscany, organizing a referendum on union with Piedmont and the formation of a new state. The referendum took place on March 1, 1860 and March 12, 1860, with results that legitimized the annexation of Tuscany to the kingdom of Sardinia. The French government reacted by requesting the cession of Savoy and Nice, which resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Turin on March 24, 1860. In exchange for these two provinces, the Kingdom of Sardinia became a much more homogeneous nation than the old Piedmont, acquiring, in addition to Lombardy, the current Emilia Romagna and Tuscany.

Cavour was aware that the left had not abandoned the idea of an expedition to the south of Italy, and that Garibaldi, surrounded by republican and revolutionary figures, was in contact with Victor Emmanuel II for this purpose. The count considered the initiative risky and, therefore, he opposed it. However, his prestige was put in defect by the transfer of Nice and Savoy and he does not feel strong enough to oppose it. The departure of Quarto was carefully monitored by the Piedmontese authorities and Cavour succeeded, thanks to Giuseppe La Farina who was sent after the landing in Sicily, in monitoring and maintaining contact with Garibaldi. On the intentions of this one to disembark in the Papal States, the count, very worried about the possible reaction of the French, allies of the pope, ordered, on May 10, 1860, the sending of a ship in the waters of Tuscany to stop Garibaldi.

Garibaldi nevertheless took the southern route and, after landing at Marsala on May 11, 1860, Cavour sent La Farina to Sicily in order to maintain contact with Garibaldi and to control, if possible, the situation. On the international scene, the foreign powers, suspecting the complicity of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the expedition, protested to the government of Turin, which faced the situation with a certain calmness because of the serious financial crisis of Austria, which had to deal with a resumption of the Hungarian revolution.

Napoleon III, on the other hand, immediately took on the role of mediator and, for peace, proposed to Cavour the separation of Sicily from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the promulgation of a Constitution in Naples and Palermo and the alliance between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Immediately, the Bourbon regime complied with the French proposal and established a liberal government that proclaimed a constitution. This situation puts Cavour in great difficulty, such an alliance being impossible. At the same time, he could not displease France and the United Kingdom, who were pressing for a truce. The Piedmontese government decided that the king should send a letter to Garibaldi ordering him not to cross the Strait of Messina. On July 22, 1860, Vittorio Emanuele II sent this letter, which Cavour wanted, but followed it with a personal message in which he contradicted his official order.

On August 6, 1860 Cavour informed the delegates of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of Garibaldi”s refusal to accept the truce, declaring that the means of conciliation had been exhausted and postponing the negotiations for the alliance to an uncertain future. The count, fearing a deterioration of the relations with France, made stop a military expedition of Mazzini who, from Tuscany, was to attack the Papal States. Following these events, Cavour was willing to make every effort to prevent the movement for the unification of Italy from becoming revolutionary. In this context, he tried, in vain, to prevent Garibaldi from reaching Naples, organizing a clandestine shipment of arms for a pro-Pietrean revolt that did not take place. On the other hand, Garibaldi triumphantly entered the Bourbon capital on September 7, 1860, dispelling Cavour”s fears because of his friendship for the king.

The project of a success in Naples being a failure, the count, with the aim of returning to the House of Savoy an active part in the national movement, decided the invasion of the pontifical Marche and Umbria. This project was also intended to prevent Garibaldi”s progression towards Rome, as well as a perilous confrontation with France. Napoleon III had to be informed and prepared for these events and convinced that the invasion by Piedmont of the Papal States was a lesser evil. For this delicate mission, the count chooses Farini and Cialdini.

The fear of an attack by Austria precipitated the events and Cavour sent an ultimatum to the Papal States enjoining them to dismiss the foreign troops, followed, on September 11, 1860, by the violation of the borders. France reacted firmly in defense of the Pope, but without concrete effect. Meanwhile, the crisis with Garibaldi suddenly worsened, when the general proclaimed, on September 10, that he wished to entrust the conquered territories to the king only after having occupied Rome. The announcement also obtained the approval of Mazzini.

The victory at the battle of Castelfidardo, the granting to the government of a loan of 150 million Sardinian lire for military expenses and the triumph of Italian independence restored Cavour”s strength and confidence, while Garibaldi, although victorious at the battle of the Volturno, halted his advance on Rome. Responding to Cavour”s request, the “prodictator” Giorgio Pallavicino Trivulzio organized a plebiscite in Naples for immediate annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia, followed in Palermo by his counterpart Antonio Mordini. The votes took place on October 21, 1860, sanctioning the union of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with that of Victor Emmanuel II. On November 4 and 5, 1860, Umbria and the Marches voted for the unification to Italy. At the beginning of October Cavour declared:

“It will not be the last title of glory for Italy to have known how to form a nation without sacrificing the freedom of the independence, without passing by the dictatorial hands of a Cromwell, but by freeing itself from the monarchic absolutism without falling in the revolutionary despotism to the revolutionary dictatorships of one or more, would be to kill the incipient legal liberty that we want inseparable from the independence of the nation “

– Camillo Cavour, October 2, 1860

With Garibaldi”s designs on Rome halted, the problem for Cavour was to decide what to do with what remained of the Papal States (approximately present-day Lazio), taking into account that an attack on Rome would be considered an act of aggression by France.

The Count”s project, which began in November 1860 and continued until his death, was to propose to the Pope the renunciation of temporal power in exchange for the renunciation, on the part of the State, of what was its equivalent: jurisdictionalism. The principle of “a free Church in a free State” would be adopted, but the negotiations stumbled over the fundamental intransigence of Pius IX, and the project failed.

The Cavour Government of the Kingdom of Italy (1861)

From January 27, 1861 to February 3, 1861, the elections for the first unitary Italian Parliament took place. More than 300 of the 443 seats in the new chamber went to the government majority. The opposition won a hundred, but the right, composed of clerics, had no representatives since they had adhered to the invitation not to elect and not to be elected in a Parliament that had infringed the rights of the Pope. On February 18 the new session, in which for the first time sat together representatives of Piedmont, Lombardy, Sicily, Tuscany, Emilia and Naples, was inaugurated. On March 17, the Parliament proclaimed the Kingdom of Italy, and Victor-Emmanuel II as its king. On March 22, the king renounced the appointment of Ricasoli as head of the government, and confirmed Cavour as head of the government, with the additional responsibility of the Navy and Foreign Affairs. On March 25, he declared in parliament that Rome should become the capital of Italy.

The most tumultuous episode in Cavour”s political life, apart from the incident with Victor Emmanuel II after the armistice of Villafranca, was his meeting with Garibaldi in April 1861. The object of discord was the army of Garibaldian volunteers in the South, whose transfer to the North Cavour wanted to avoid, for fear that it would fall prey to the radicals. Thus, on January 16, 1861, he decreed the dissolution of the southern army in Naples and, despite the protests of its commander, Giuseppe Sirtori, Cavour remained categorical.

Without defending his army, Garibaldi pronounced, on April 18, 1861, a memorable speech to the Chamber by accusing “the cold enemy hand of this ministry Cavour” to have wanted to cause a “fratricidal war”. The Count reacted violently, asking, in vain, the President of the Chamber Rattazzi to call Garibaldi to order. The session was suspended and Nino Bixio tried in the following days a reconciliation which was never completely accomplished.

On May 29, Cavour suffered a malaise that his doctor attributed to an attack of malaria that had struck him periodically since he had contracted the disease as a young man in the family rice fields of Verceil. All the treatments are without effect. He asked to see his friend and Franciscan priest, Father Giacomo da Poirino (in the century Luigi Marocco). This one, after a long conversation, gives him the absolution, although excommunicated, and provides him the communion and the extreme unction, because the count says that he wants “to die a good Christian”. For this act, Father Giacomo was suspended a divinis. According to his friend Michelangelo Castelli, the last words of the Count were: “Italy is done, everything is saved”. On June 6, 1861, less than three months after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, Cavour died in Turin in the Palazzo Benso di Cavour, the family palace of the Cavours. His death caused immense grief, because it was completely unexpected, and at his funeral there was an extraordinary participation of personalities. Cavour”s tomb is in Santena, next to that of his nephew, Augusto, in the family crypt. His brother Gustavo refused the honors of a state burial in the Basilica of Superga as requested by Victor Emmanuel II. Cavour”s tomb was declared a national monument in 1911.

Bettino Ricasoli succeeded Cavour as Chairman of the Board.

Giuseppe Mazzini, philosopher and republican, attracted to him, by his ideas, all the revolutionary components of Italy before they rallied to the king of the kingdom of Sardinia and to Cavour. Daniele Manin, in particular, calls his friends to support the action of the House of Savoy in a resounding declaration:

“Persuaded that it is necessary above all to make Italy, that it is the primordial question, I say to the house of Savoy: Make Italy and I am with you, if not not… Me republican, I plant the first standard of the unification: Italy with the Sardinian king”.

– Daniele Manin

Mazzini was an opponent of Cavour, whom he was unable to confront in Parliament because, although he was elected in 1866, after several invalidations, he refused to take an oath to the Albertine Statute, the constitution of the monarchy of Savoy.

Mazzini was a fierce opponent of the Crimean War, which caused enormous losses in men to the kingdom of Sardinia. He addressed an appeal to the soldiers leaving for the conflict:

“Fifteen thousand of you are about to be deported to the Crimea. Not one of you may see your family again. You will not have the honor of battles. You will die, without glory, without the halo of splendid deeds to be passed on, the ultimate comfort of your loved ones. You will die because of foreign governments and leaders. To serve a false foreign purpose, your bones will be trampled by the horses of the Cossacks, in distant lands, which none of your people will be able to gather to mourn over. That is why I call you, with a pain in my soul, ”deported”.”

– Giuseppe Mazzini

When Napoleon III escaped the assassination attempt by Felice Orsini and Giovanni Andrea Pieri in 1858, the government in Turin blamed it on Mazzini (Cavour would have called him “the leader of the horde of fanatical assassins” and “an enemy as dangerous as Austria”) because the two perpetrators of the attack had been members of his Partito d”Azione. According to Denis Mack Smith, Cavour had in the past financed the two revolutionaries because of their break with Mazzini, and, after Napoleon III”s attack and the convictions of the two men, Orsini”s widow received a pension. Cavour also put pressure on the judiciary to have the radical press judged and condemned. He also favored the Stefani agency with secret funds, even though the law forbade privileges and monopolies of private individuals. Thus, the Stefani agency, with its strong relationship with Cavour, became, according to the writer Gigi Di Fiore, a key tool of the government for the control of the media in the kingdom of Sardinia.

Mazzini, for his part, in addition to having condemned the attack of Orsini and Pieri, attacked the Prime Minister in an article published in the newspaper Italia del popolo :

“You have opened in Piedmont a deadly dualism, you have corrupted our youth, putting in place a policy of lies and deceptions in front of the serene policy of the one who wants to be reborn. Between you and us, sir, an abyss separates us. We represent Italy, you represent the old suspicious monarchic ambition. We, above all, want national unity, you, territorial enlargement.”

– Giuseppe Mazzini

Mazzini supported Garibaldi in his expedition of the Thousand and encouraged him to take Rome, knowing that this went against Cavour”s policy, worried about the reaction of France.

Domestic policy

While he was admired by a wide audience, Cavour”s character was also the subject of criticism.

In 1853, a year of serious cereal crisis in the Italian peninsula, Cavour, a great mill owner, rather than prohibiting the wheat trade with foreign countries, accepted exports, making, according to some authors (such as Lorenzo Del Boca), enormous profits for personal use and depriving the Piedmontese population of harvests. The historian Rosario Romeo speaks of rumors against the Count, from popular newspapers of the time. The fact is that the policy of the exports of cereals provoked a general uneasiness and troubles in Arona, Pallanza (a frazione of Verbania) and Genoa. Some mayors mobilized against Cavour”s government, among them the twelve mayors of the district of Intra (frazione of Verbania) and that of Cava Manara, who declared: “If the exports continue for another month, the bakers of this place will not be able to find much wheat to make bread”. The popular class protested even under the windows of Cavour”s villa. The carabinieri intervened; there were arrests and episodes of violence against the demonstrators. The newspapers L”imparziale and La voce della libertà, which were among the main accusers of the government”s maneuver on wheat, were criticized for having incited the people to revolt and were brought to court but acquitted. Angelo Brofferio, Cavour”s political rival, wrote sharp attacks on his activities, saying that under Cavour”s government, “monopolies, stockbrokers, telegraph operators and speculators are illegally fattening themselves on the public substance, while the universality of the citizens groans, suffers, and cries under the weight of taxes and duties. Brofferio defines as a “barbaric act” the aggression of the police against the demonstrators. At the end of 1853, in Valle d”Aosta, the most important revolts were recorded. More than two thousand inhabitants were involved in the riots and the government made a total of 530 arrests. Of the rioters arrested, 80 were tried and 9 were sentenced.

The Risorgimento

Cavour”s role during the Risorgimento has given rise to various debates. Although he is considered one of the fathers of the nation along with Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II and Mazzini, Cavour was hardly concerned with the unification of Italy, but only with pushing back the borders of the kingdom of Savoy (an opinion supported by Mazzini himself). Cavour”s role in the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies is still unclear. According to the writer Arrigo Petacco, the Piedmontese Prime Minister, opposed to the conquest of the Bourbon kingdom, even tried to conclude an agreement with Francis II, which provided for the creation of a federal state; however, the latter refused. He would have been a member of the Freemasonry.

Other authors, such as Del Boca, argue that in 1856, four years before the Expedition of the Thousand, Cavour and Clarendon had contacts to organize revolts against the Bourbons in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a point of view also supported by the English historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, author of several works on Garibaldi. Cavour would have ordered Carlo Pellion di Persano to make contact in Naples with the lawyer Edwin James, a man trusted by the British government.

The English historian Denis Mack Smith, whose work focuses on the history of Italy from the Risorgimento to the present day, gave a negative assessment of Cavour”s character, calling him “deceitful,” “clumsy,” “false,” and “cunning,” and showing him to be determined to prevent the unification of Italy if credit could be given to the radical, republican, popular, and democratic forces.

The physiognomy of Cavour, all in delicacy, contrasts with that of his king. The man is extremely attractive and sympathetic. Of cheerful mood, it is said of him that he has “the cheerful politics” and the Piedmontese people, whose affection he won, call him “papa Camillo”.

“His physiognomy throws in spite of an almost senile aspect, like a gleam of youth. It seems that all his senses are on the lookout behind the glasses with narrow lenses; the eyes are attentive and as if smiling; the hands seem to palpitate. This head is crowned with a square forehead like a fortress. The features are regular, the face is shaven, except for a slight collar of beard.”

– Alfredo Panzini, Cavour and the epic of the Risorgimento.

Cavour did not marry, stating “I cannot take a wife now, I must make Italy”. Bon vivant and sensual, Cavour had many brief and discreet affairs. At the age of twenty he met the Marquise Anna Giustiniani, with whom he lived a real passion and who committed suicide for him. During his trips to Paris, Camillo allowed himself a few deviations and in 1835 he met Melanie Waldor, who wrote a novel entitled Alphonse and Juliet, in which Alphonse was in fact Cavour; she called him “my little Italian with a pink complexion and a child”s smile”. Then came the aristocrat Clementina Guasco di Castelletto, Emilia Gazelli Pollone Joséphine de Vintimille, Hortense Allart de Méritens, a Frenchwoman whose information, taken from the beds of the great men of Europe, was useful to the statesman for his investments in the stock market. In 1855, still in the French capital, he met an English widow, the Marquise d”Ely. The last conquest before his death was a famous ballerina, Bianca Ronzini.

Cavour was also a gourmet, passionate about agnolotti, braised beef and the legendary vermouth. He gave his name to the soup “à la Cavour” (a rice cream), to the pudding “à la Cavour”, to the artichokes in a “Cavour” crust and to the calf”s head “à la Cavour”, and he promoted Barolo, a Piedmontese wine that he used to serve at dinner.

Two Italian cities added his name to the original one: Grinzane Cavour, where Cavour was mayor, and Sogliano Cavour, to celebrate the national unity recovered. Many streets, squares and statues have been dedicated to him. For 2010 (anniversary of his birth), an Italian commemorative coin of 2 euros represents him.

The battleship Conte di Cavour and the aircraft carrier Cavour (CVH-550) were also named in his honor in Italy.

In Luchino Visconti”s The Cheetah, the character of Chevalley, played by Leslie French, is in the film (as in Lampedusa”s novel) an emissary of the newly formed unitary government of Italy, who has come to offer a senatorial seat to Prince Salina. As is often the case with Visconti, the appearance of this character is openly modelled on that of Cavour, notably in the famous portrait by Francesco Hayez (1864).

Camillo Cavour has received many honors


The biography of Camillo Cavour was published by Joseph Devey (1861), his speeches were translated by Isacco Artom and Albert Blanc (1862).


  1. Camillo Cavour
  2. Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour