Italian Unification

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It took sixty-five years for Italy to be transformed from
a series of separate states ruled by restored monarchies
after the Napoleonic invasion into a unified Kingdom of
Italy under Piedmont with Rome as its capital. It took so
long because there were many obstacles to the political
unity of Italy. The influence of the Catholic Church
was a very significant obstacle but it was one of many,
such as the conservative rulers, the lack of popular
support for unity and divisions amongst supporters of
unity itself. By far the greatest obstacle, however,
was the role of Austria in preventing unity.

The Catholic Church was influential in Italy in many
ways. Both rulers and ordinary people were
influenced by the conservative beliefs of the Catholic
Church and the attitude of the Papacy towards Italian
unity was often reflected in the actions of Italian rulers
and mass support for nationalism. In 1815 temporal
power was restored to the Papacy in the Papal States
and the Pope shared the conservatism of the other
Italian rulers who hoped to maintain their own power in
individual states. The dominant power in Italy was
Austria and the Habsburg family and they were
staunchly Catholic. When there was revolutionary
activity in the Papal States in 1831 Austria came to the
defence of the Pope.

The conservatism of the Church was therefore an
obstacle to unity but up until the 1840s only one of
many. Without the Catholic Church the Italian
rulers would still have been opposed to greater unity. In the 1820-21 and 1831 revolutions they did not join together to oppose the threat but called upon
Austrian troops to help them. The revolutionaries
themselves were also divided over whether unity
was desired at all and those who were nationalists had
different ideas. For example, Mazzini wanted a united
republic and Balbo thought Piedmont should lead a
united Italian kingdom. It was the military might of
Austria that maintained the restoration system...
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