Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
 
583
CAVOUR

each word,” he wrote, “we are bound in conscience to declare that only one path is open to the nation, the government, and the king: war, immediate war!” Piedmont was the only part of Italy enjoying a government at once national and independent, and if it did not hasten to the assistance of the Milanese in their desperate struggle, if possible before the Austrians were expelled, the monarchy could not survive. The situation was most critical, and even the British government was not friendly to Piedmont; but Cavour was prepared to face any danger rather than see his country inactive. In an article in the Risorgimento he declared that, while he never believed that material help was to be expected from England, he was convinced that she would not actively help Austria to crush the revolution, but that if she did “she would have against her a coalition not of princes, but of peoples.” Cavour’s article made such an impression that it put an end to the king’s vacillations, and a few days after its appearance war was declared (March 25).

For a few months patriotic and revolutionary enthusiasm carried all before it. In Hungary, in Germany, in Paris, in Vienna itself the revolution was triumphant; constitutions were granted, dynasties tottered and fell, and provisional governments were set up. In all parts of Italy, too, revolts broke out against the established order. But the Piedmontese army, although the troops behaved with gallantry, was no match for Austria’s veteran legions, and except in a few minor engagements, in one of which Cavour’s nephew Gustavo was killed, it was generally unsuccessful, and an armistice was concluded in the summer. In the meanwhile the elections were being held in Piedmont. Cavour himself was not returned until the supplementary elections in June, and he took his seat in parliament on the right as a Conservative. His parliamentary career was not at first very successful; he was not a ready speaker; his habit of talking French made Italian difficult for him, and, although French was at that time allowed in the chamber, he preferred to speak Italian. But he gradually developed a strong argumentative power, his speeches became models of concise reasoning, and he rose at times to the highest level of an eloquence which was never rhetorical. After the dissolution in January 1849, Cavour was not re-elected. The new parliament had to discuss, in the first instance, the all-important question of whether the campaign should be continued now that the armistice was about to expire. The king decided on a last desperate throw, and recommenced hostilities. On the 23rd of March the Piedmontese were totally defeated at Novara, a disaster which was followed immediately by the abdication of Charles Albert in favour of his son Victor Emmanuel II.

Although the new king was obliged to conclude peace with Austria and the Italian revolution was crushed, Cavour nevertheless did not despair; he believed that so long as the constitution was maintained in Piedmont, the Italian cause was safe. There were fresh elections in July, and this time Cavour was returned. He was still in the difficult position of a moderate Liberal at a time when there seemed to be room for none but reactionaries and conspirators, but by his consummate ability he convinced men that his attitude was the right one, and he made it triumph. His speech on the 7th of March 1850, in which he said that, “Piedmont, gathering to itself all the living forces of Italy, would be soon in a position to lead our mother-country to the high destinies to which she is called,” made a deep impression, for it struck the first note of encouragement after the dark days of the preceding year. He supported the ministry of which Massimo d’ Azeglio was president in its work of reform and restoration, and in October of the same year, on the death of Santa Rosa, he himself was appointed minister of agriculture, industry and commerce. In 1851 he also assumed the portfolio of finance, and devoted himself to the task of reorganizing the Piedmontese finances. By far the ablest man in the cabinet, he soon came to dominate it, and, in his anxiety to dominate the chamber as well, he negotiated the union of the Right Centre with the Left Centre (a manœuvre known as the connubio), and promoted the election of Urbano Rattazzi to the presidency of the chamber. This, which he accomplished without d’ Azeglio’s knowledge, led to a split between that statesman and Cavour, and to the latter’s resignation. Cavour has been blamed for not informing his colleagues of the compact, but for public reasons it was not desirable that the connubio should be discussed before it was consummated. D’ Azeglio indeed bore no malice, and remained Cavour’s friend. Cavour made use of his freedom to visit England and France again, in order to sound public opinion on the Italian question. In London he found the leaders of both parties friendly, and Lord Palmerston told him that if the constitutional experiment in Piedmont succeeded the Italian despots were doomed. At this time Sir James Hudson was appointed British minister at Turin, where he became the intimate friend of Cavour and gave him valuable assistance. In Paris, Cavour had a long interview with Prince Louis Napoleon, then president of the republic, and he already foresaw the great part which that ruler was destined to play in Italian affairs. He also met several Italian exiles in France.

On Cavour’s return he found the country in the throes of a new cabinet crisis, in consequence of which, on d’ Azeglio’s recommendation, he was invited to form a ministry. By the 4th of November he was prime minister, a position which he held with two short interruptions until his death. He devoted the first years of his premiership to developing the economic resources of the country; but in preparing it for greater destinies, he had to meet the heavy expenditure by increased taxation, and some of his measures made him the object of hostile demonstrations, although he soon outlived his unpopularity. Cavour’s first international difficulty was with Austria; after the abortive rising at Milan in February 1853, the Austrian government, in addition to other measures of repression, confiscated the estates of those Lombards who had become naturalized Piedmontese, although they had nothing to do with the outbreak. Cavour took a strong line on this question, and on Austria’s refusal to withdraw the obnoxious decree, he recalled the Piedmontese minister from Vienna, thus by his very audacity winning the sympathy of the Western powers.

Then followed the Crimean War, in which Cavour first showed his extraoidinary political insight and diplomatic genius. The first suggestion of Piedmontese co-operation is usually believed to have come from England, who desired the Italian contingent, not only as material assistance, but also in order to reduce the overwhelming French preponderance. From the Piedmontese point of view there were several reasons why Cavour should desire his country to participate in the campaign. Firstly, it was advisable to use every opportunity of making the Italian question an international one; secondly, by joining the alliance Piedmont would place the Western powers under an obligation; thirdly, Cavour, like Balbo, believed that the Italian question was bound up with the Eastern problem, and as Austria was demanding the permission of the powers to occupy Alessandria, as a guarantee that Piedmont would not profit by the war in the East to create trouble in Italy, Piedmontese participation would in itself prove the best guarantee; and finally, as he always looked to Italy and not merely to Piedmont, he felt that, having proved to Europe that Italians could combine order with liberty, it remained to show that they were capable of fighting as well. But there were serious difficulties in the way. Had Austria joined the allies, as at one time seemed probable, Sardinia’s position fighting by her side would have been an impossible one. On the other hand, Piedmont could not demand definite promises of future aid from the Western powers as some politicians desired, because these would never have been given, lest Austria should be offended and driven into the arms of Russia. Then, both the extreme Conservatives and the extreme Radicals were opposed to expenditure on foreign adventures for which they could see no use. In all these difficulties, however, Cavour was loyally supported by the king, who saw the advantages of Piedmontese participation, even if unattended by definite promises. General Dabormida, the minister of foreign affairs, disapproved of this policy and resigned. The vacant portfolio was offered to d’ Azeglio, who refused it; whereupon Cavour assumed it himself. On the same