1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Depretis, Agostino
DEPRETIS, AGOSTINO (1813–1887), Italian statesman, was born at Mezzana Corte, in the province of Stradella on the 31st of January 1813. From early manhood a disciple of Mazzini and affiliated to the Giovane Italia, he took an active part in the Mazzinian conspiracies and was nearly captured by the Austrians while smuggling arms into Milan. Elected deputy in 1848, he joined the Left and founded the journal Il Diritto, but held no official position until appointed governor of Brescia in 1859. In 1860 he went to Sicily on a mission to reconcile the policy of Cavour (who desired the immediate incorporation of the island in the kingdom of Italy) with that of Garibaldi, who wished to postpone the Sicilian plébiscite until after the liberation of Naples and Rome. Though appointed pro-dictator of Sicily by Garibaldi, he failed in his attempt. Accepting the portfolio of public works in the Rattazzi cabinet in 1862, he served as intermediary in arranging with Garibaldi the expedition which ended disastrously at Aspromonte. Four years later, on the outbreak of war against Austria, he entered the Ricasoli cabinet as minister of marine, and, by maintaining Admiral Persano in command of the fleet, contributed to the defeat of Lissa. His apologists contend, however, that, as an inexperienced civilian, he could not have made sudden changes in naval arrangements without disorganizing the fleet, and that in view of the impending hostilities he was
obliged to accept the dispositions of his predecessors. Upon the death of Rattazzi in 1873, Depretis became leader of the Left, prepared the advent of his party to power, and was called upon to form the first cabinet of the Left in 1876. Overthrown by Cairoli in March 1878 on the grist-tax question, he succeeded, in the following December, in defeating Cairoli, became again premier, but on the 3rd of July 1879 was once more overturned by Cairoli. In November 1879 he, however, entered the Cairoli cabinet as minister of the interior, and in May 1881 succeeded to the premiership, retaining that office until his death on the 29th of July 1887. During the long interval he recomposed his cabinet four times, first throwing out Zanardelli and Baccarini in order to please the Right, and subsequently bestowing portfolios upon Ricotti, Robilant and other Conservatives, so as to complete the political process known as “trasformismo.” A few weeks before his death he repented of his transformist policy, and again included Crispi and Zanardelli in his cabinet. During his long term of office he abolished the grist tax, extended the suffrage, completed the railway system, aided Mancini in forming the Triple Alliance, and initiated colonial policy by the occupation of Massawa; but, at the same time, he vastly increased indirect taxation, corrupted and destroyed the fibre of parliamentary parties, and, by extravagance in public works, impaired the stability of Italian finance.