Mazzini, Giuseppe

(1805-72)

Italian revolutionary, political theorist, and advocate of Italian unification.

Mazzini was born in Genoa on June 22, 1805, the son of a doctor, and studied law at the University of Genoa. He bitterly resented the absorption of his native republic of Genoa into the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1815. In 1827 he joined the revolutionary Carbonari society, but after his imprisonment at Savona (1830-31) he abandoned that organization as ineffective. Exiled, he founded the Young Italy (Giovine Italia) Society in Marseille, France, in July 1831. It established branches in many Italian cities. Mazzini argued that through coordinated uprisings, the people could drive the Italian princes from their thrones and oust the Austrians from dominance of the Italian Peninsula.

Failed Plots

When Mazzini's attempt in 1832 to stir up a republican mutiny in the Sardinian army failed, he was sentenced to death in absentia. Expelled from France, he moved to Switzerland, where he continued to plot against the Sardinian government; another conspiracy failed in 1834. Meanwhile, he was becoming the prophet of European nationalism and organizing a Young Europe network. He chose for his organisation this symbol:

Young Europe badge

Young Europe Manifesto ( French)

In 1837 he took refuge in England.

The high point of Mazzini's career came during the revolutions of 1848-49, when he returned to Italy and was elected one of the leaders of the new Roman Republic. But when the republic fell (July 1849) to an invading French army, Mazzini once again had to flee. The rest of his life was an anticlimax. Efforts to spark republican uprisings in Mantua (1852) and Milan (1853) were unsuccessful, and the leadership of the Italian nationalist movement was taken over by such flexible advocates of a liberal monarchy as Premier Camillo di Cavour of Sardinia-Piedmont.

Last Years

Mazzini came back to Italy during the wars of 1859 and 1860 but took no pleasure in seeing the establishment in 1861 of a unified Italian kingdom rather than a republic. He was still plotting to gain Venice and Rome when he was jailed in Gaeta (August-October 1870) at the time King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was seizing Rome. In failing health, Mazzini retired to Pisa, where he died on March 10, 1872.

Mazzini played an indispensable role in Italy's unification. His tireless campaign for a united republic forced more conservative groups to compete with him. His conception of popular nationalism had widespread appeal. The advent of the Italian republic in 1946 was in effect a belated recognition of Mazzini's ideas.

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