The Age of Prose
The Kingdom of Italy that emerged in 1870 was not the
dynamic, powerful state that
many nationalists had hoped for.
The state was mired in debt. The liberal values of
the regime suggested that they assume
the debts of the states that Piedmont had absorbed
in the process of unification. The wars
of liberation had been expensive. The loans organized
in France had to be repaid. Much
infrastructure for a united state had to be created:
public buildings in Rome, the new
capital, a navy, a unified army, and an educational
system, to name a few.
In many areas the masses spoke dialect and not Italian.
It wasn’t merely in jest that
Massimo D’Azeglio pronounced his famous quip: “We
have made Italy; now we must
All of this took money, and Italy was poor. The liberal
administrators of the Kingdom of
Italy insisted on fiscal responsibility, and balanced
budgets. The tax on milling grain, the
macinato, which had been introduced into Piedmont
by Quintino Sella in 1869 was now
applied to the entire realm. These and other strict
financial measures, although beneficial
for the state as a whole, bore heavily on the poorer
peasants, especially in the south.
Liberal doctrine also demanded that the laws and practices
be standardized throughout the
land. Piedmontese officials, bringing with them new
laws and practices that inadvertently
undermined the economy of the south. Many, especially
peasant “brigands” resisted the
Piedmontese officials as representatives of a conquering
power. The regime had to keep
tens of thousands of troops in the south in order
to maintain order.
It was not just the discontented poor of the south
that threatened the stability of the
regime. many adherents of Mazzini and Garibaldi felt
betrayed by the state that had
emerged. Austria might still hope to restore her position
in Italy. And the Church, still
headed by Pius IX, condemned the new state and all
that it stood for.
In these conditions the state had to struggle to survive.
Rather than emerging strong and
glorious from the wars of unification, Italy entered
the “Age of Prose.”
The documents for this week concern the relationship
between the Kingdom of Italy and the Church. In class, we will discuss
the politics of the liberal state with special emphasis on its inclusion
of liberal doctrine and the phenomenon of trasformismo.