The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/Rome as the Capital of United Italy




Born in 1810, died in 1861; entered the Sardinian Parliament in 1848; became Prime Minister in 1852; joined the Alliance in the Crimean War; acted with Napoleon III. in 1858–59 in the war against Austria; secretly supported the expedition of Garibaldi of 1860; secured the unification of Italy under Victor Emmanuel in 1861.

Rome should be the capital of Italy. Without the acceptance of this premise by Italy and all Europe there can be no solution of the Roman question. If any one could conceive of a united Italy having any degree of stability, without Rome for its capital, I would declare the Roman question difficult, if not impossible, of solution. And why have we the right, the duty of insisting that Rome shall be united to Italy? Because without Rome as the capital of Italy, Italy can not exist. This truth being felt instinctively by all Italians, and asserted abroad by all who judge Italian affairs impartially, needs no demonstration. It is upheld by the judgment of nations.

And yet, gentlemen, this truth is susceptible of a very simple proof. Italy has still much to do before it will rest upon a staple basis; much to do in solving the grave problems raised by unification; much to do in overcoming the obstacles which time-honored traditions have opposed to this great undertaking. And if this end must be compassed, it is essential that there shall be no cause of dissideuce or of failure. Until the question of the capital of Italy is determined, there will be endless discords among the different provinces.

It is easy to understand how persons of good faith, cultured and talented, are now suggesting, some on historical, others on artistic grounds, the advisability of establishing the capital in some other city. Such a discussion is quite comprehensible now, but if Italy already had her capital in Rome, do you think this question would be even possible? Assuredly not. Even those who are now opposed to transferring the capital to Rome, would not dream of removing it if it were once established there. Therefore, it is only by proclaiming Rome the capital of Italy that we can put an end to these dissensions among ourselves.

I am grieved that men of eminence and genius, men who have rendered glorious service to the cause of Italian unity, should drag this question into the field of debate and discuss it with—` dare I say it?—puerile arguments. The question of the capital, gentlemen, is not determined by climate, or topography, nor even by strategical considerations. If these things affected the selection, I think I might safely say that London would not be the capital of England, nor, perhaps, Paris of France. The selection of the capital is determined by great moral reasons. It is the will of the people that decides a question touching them so closely.

In Rome, gentlemen, are united all the circumstances, whether historic, intellectual, or moral, that should determine the site of the capital. Rome is the only city with traditions not purely local. The entire history of Rome from the time of Cæsar to the present day is the history of a city whose importance reaches far beyond her confines; of a city destined to be one of the capitals of the world. Convinced, profoundly convinced, of this truth, I feel constrained to declare it solemnly to you and to the nation, and I feel bound to appeal in this matter to the patriotism of every citizen of Italy, and to the representatives of her most eminent cities, that discussions may cease, and that he who represents the nation before other powers may be able to proclaim that the necessity of having Rome as the capital is recognized by all the nation. I think I am justified in making this appeal even to those who, for reasons which I respect, differ from me on this point. Yet more; I can assume no Spartan indifference in the matter. I say frankly that it will be a deep grief to me to tell my native city that she must renounce resolutely and definitively all hope of being the seat of government.

As far as I am personally concerned, it is no pleasure to go to Rome. Having little artistic taste, I feel sure that in the midst of the splendid monuments of ancient and modern Rome I shall lament the plain and unpoetic streets of my native town. But one thing I can say with confidence: knowing the character of my fellow citizens; knowing from actual facts how ready they have always been to make the greatest sacrifices for the sacred cause of Italy; knowing their willingness to make sacrifices when their city was invaded by the enemy, and knowing their promptness and energy in its defense; knowing all this, I have no fear that they will not uphold me when, in their name and as their deputy, I say that Turin is ready to make this great sacrifice for the interests of a united Italy.

I am comforted by the hope—I may even say the certainty—that when Italy shall have established the seat of government in the Eternal City, she will not be ungrateful to this land which was the cradle of liberty; to this land in which was sown that germ of independence which, maturing rapidly and branching out, has now reached forth its tendrils from Sicily to the Alps. I have said and I repeat: Rome, and Rome only, should be the capital of Italy.

But here begin the difficulties. We must go to Rome, but there are two conditions. We must go there in concert with France, otherwise the union of Rome with the rest of Italy would be interpreted by the great mass of Catholics, within Italy and without it, as the signal of the slavery of the Church. We must go, therefore, to Rome in such a way that the true independence of the pontiff shall not be diminished. We must go to Rome, but the civil power must not extend to spiritual things. These are the two conditions that must be fulfilled if united Italy is to exist.

At the risk of being considered utopian, I believe that when the proclamation of the principles which I have just declared, and when the indorsement of them that you will give shall become known and considered at Rome and in the Vatican, I believe, I say, that those Italian fibers which the reactionary party has, as yet, been unable to remove from the heart of Pius IX. will again vibrate, and that there will be accomplished the greatest act that any people have yet performed. And so it shall be given to the same generation not only to have restored a nation, but to have done what is yet greater, yet more sublime—an act of which the influence is incalculable, and which is to have reconciled the papacy with the civil power, to have made peace between Church and State, between the spirit of religion and the great principles of liberty. Yes, I hope that it will be given us to compass these two great acts which will most assuredly carry to the most distant posterity the worthiness of the present generation of Italians.

  1. Delivered early in 1861, and one of the last of Cavour's speeches. On February 18 the first Italian Parliament had met at Turin. Cavour urged with all his power that Rome should be made the permanent capital. In May a vote to that effect was passed, but Cavour did not live to see the transfer made. He died on June 6 following the vote. A contemporary translation revised for this collection.
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