Giuseppe Mazzini was born in Genoa on June 22nd, 1805 into a
middle class family where his father was a professor of anatomy.
Mazzini was extremely delicate as an infant, and as a young
child, giving his parents cause for concern. From a young age he
showed signs of intellectual precocity possessing a tremendous
interest in books and spending many hours reading.
Mazzini entered the University of Genoa at the age of fourteen
where he studied law but was also involved in literary pursuits.
During these student days many associates were impressed by his
being possessed of gentle, generous, and noble character.
In April 1821 a large number of would-be revolutionaries, who
had not prevailed in an insurrection against Austria, sought
refuge in Genoa. Mazzini felt that his spirit was crushed by the
impossibility he felt of ever conceiving by what means to free
his country from foreign rule. From that time Mazzini decided to
dress always in black as if in mourning for his country.
At a time when the Austrian minister Metternich could say that
"Italy is merely a geographical expression" due to the Italian
peninsula being politically constituted of something of a
patchwork of historically established aristocratic and clerical
states Mazzini came to believe that there was an "Italy" that
young "Italians" could and should seek to establish with "liberty
Mazzini joined the revolutionary Carbonari society, and was
sympathetic to the widespread European efforts at liberal and
constitutional revolution in 1830. Mazzini was arrested,
(principally it seems because he appeared to be an unorthodox
thinker) and, on evidence that Mazzini regarded as being
contrived, sentenced to a term in jail for allegedly introducing
another young man into the Carbonari. Mazzini subsequently spent
six months of imprisonment at Savona (1830-31), during which time
he took upon himself the "apostolate" (in Mazzini's own
terminology) of working to achieve "liberty of country" for
Upon his release Mazzini was offered a choice of "internment
in a small town or exile" and decided to base himself in exile in
southern France. In exile in Marseille Mazzini, having dismissed
the Carbonari as unlikely to be effective in terms of his
"apostolate", worked to establish a Young Italy (La Giovine
Italia) Society which aimed at the liberation of "Italy" from
foreign or domestic tyranny and at the political unification of
the Italian Peninsula under a republican form of government.
Mazzini envisaged that there should be a many faceted approach to
achieving these goals and, whilst there should be a mainly
educational approach, there could well be some recourse to the
use of violence by guerilla bands.
In April of 1831 there was a change of monarch in
Sardinia-Piedmont with the succession of Charles Albert who, in
constitutional agitations of 1821, had had links with the
Carbonari. In the summer of 1831 Mazzini wrote to Charles Albert
urging him to take the lead in efforts to secure Italian
independence - the letter was also published in Marseilles. The
Sardinian administration subsequently contacted that of France
and Mazzini, was ordered (August 1831) to leave Marseilles. He
now based himself in Switzerland.
From his Swiss exile Mazzini encouraged revolutionary
movements in Sardinia including an attempted army mutiny of 1833
(for which Mazzini was sentenced to death in absentia) and an
attempted invasion of Savoy, (a Sardinian territory), of
Young Italy 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.
In 1833 the Austrians declared membership of Young Italy to be
high treason and punishable by death. In April 1834 a "Young
Europe" association was formed "of men believing in a future of
liberty, equality and fraternity for all mankind; and desirous of
consecrating their thoughts and actions to the realization of
that future." The formation of "Young Switzerland" was followed
by Mazzini being exiled again in late 1836 - he now relocated to
In his early days in London Mazzini was practically destitute
and living on potatoes and rice but, once he gained a good grasp
of english, began to gain a living through literary journalism.
He was assisted in this integration into literary circles through
a frienship with Thomas Carlyle.
Carlyle did not really agree with much of Mazzini's politics
but nonetheless considered him to possess a remarkable nobility
From his base in London Mazzini maintained contacts with
radicals and revolutionaries widely in Europe. A fairly high
profile scandal was aired in 1844 after it was established that
Mazzini's correspondence was being intercerpted and read by the
authorities. Questions were asked in the House of Commons and the
official response was greeted by much indignation.
In June 1846 a Cardinal, who was regarded as being of liberal
views, was unexpectedly elected to the Papal dignity and
thereafter followed a number of policies that seemed to confirm a
reputed inclination towards liberalism and reform. In the later
months of 1847 Mazzini wrote a letter to the new Pope. This
letter, which was also made available to the public, indicated
that Italian liberals expected that the new Pope would seek to
fulfil a national as well as a religious mission.
The high point of Mazzini's career came during the revolutions
that were widespread in Europe and the Italian Peninsula during
1848-49. As events continued to unfold Charles Albert of
Sardinia-Piedmont placed himself in a form of broad alliance with
Italian nationalism against Austria. Mazzini returned the Italian
Peninsula where he joined the nationalistic forces of Giuseppe
Garibaldi for a time.
Early in 1849 he was elected as a member of what proved to be
a short-lived government in Tuscany following the departure of
the Grand Duke and as one of the leaders of the new Roman
Republic following the withdrawal of the Pope into exile at
Mazzini was elected as a member of a constituent assembly that
was to assume the responsibility of framing a constitution for
the Roman Republic. In late March Mazzini was appointed as one of
the Triumverate who were invested with supreme powers in the
The Pope issued appeals to the European powers to help in the
re-establishment of the control of Rome by the Papacy. Although
the French Constitution explicitly renounced military actions
against foreign peoples this did not prevent a large French army
being sent with the intention of overthrowing the would-be Roman
On July 3rd 1849 the Roman Republic fell after offering a
determined defence over several weeks against the besieging
A Constitution of the Roman Republic had been passed and
proclaimed two days previously by the Roman Assembly although the
Assembly knew that it had little chance of actually enduring into
Mazzini was reluctantly obliged once again to seek foreign
exile and returned to London by way of Marseilles. Efforts to
spark republican uprisings in Mantua (1852) and Milan (1853) were
notably unsuccessful and this lack of success tended to discredit
Mazzini and to limit his influence.
Over the ensuing years Italian nationalism and republicanism
were somewhat exploited by Camillo di Cavour who was attempting
to draw numerous and extensive territories in the Italian
Peninsula into association with a liberal monarchy centred upon
historic Sardinia-Piedmont. Cavour was serving as Prime Minister
in Sardinia-Piedmont where he sponsored seemingly progressive
policies. The Sardinian state, being possessed of an army, was
open to being presented as a champion of Italian interests
against Austria. Whilst middle class persons tended to be seduced
by Cavour's Realpolitik working class persons often drifted
towards Socialism and Marxism. This drift towards Socialism being
facilitated by Mazzini's own flirtation with Socialism in these
Mazzini came back to Italy during the wars of 1859 and 1860
but took only limited satisfaction in seeing the establishment of
a unified North Italian kingdom in 1861. Mazzini would have
preferred nascent "Italia" to be constituted as a republic.
Mazzini was elected to the Turin Italian parliament in 1865 but
declined to take his seat because that would have involved an
oath of allegiance to the monarchy.
Mazzini continued to plot to gain Venice (from Austrian
control) and Rome (from Papal control) and was expelled from
Switzerland in 1869 at the Italian governments request following
evidence of a conspiracy with Garibaldi. After a few months spent
in England Mazzini sailed for Sicily but was arrested at sea as
his ship approached the Italian coasts. Mazzini was thus in jail
in Gaeta (August-October 1870) at the time when the Italian
Kingdom of Victor Emmanuel II seized control of Rome.
Mazzini was in failing health and (ironically) the birth of a
royal prince was used as an excuse for clemency. Mazzini retired
to Pisa, where he died on March 10th, 1872. A public funeral was
conducted in Pisa but Mazzini's remains were thereafter conveyed
to his home city of Genoa for burial.
In terms of his place in history - Mazzini is included with
Cavour and Garibaldi as being one of the leading figures of the
Italian Risorgimento or resurgence.
Popular European History pages
The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy
of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is
illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by
nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest,
the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every
faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in
appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact;
all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law
in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of
nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole
encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in
one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie
folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp,
kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application
of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
- 1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins
- A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.
- 2 The French Revolution of 1848
- A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".
- 3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
- "Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted
to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.
- 4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
- A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.
- 5 The Monarchs recover power 1848-1849
- Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support
the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power
in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European
structure of states and their sovereignty.