The New International Encyclopædia/Cavour, Camillo Benso di

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The New International Encyclopædia
Cavour, Camillo Benso di
Edition of 1905. Written by Edwin A. StartSee also Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CAVOUR, kȧ-vōōr', Camillo Benso di, Count (1810-61). The great constructive statesman of modern Italy. He was born in Turin, August 10, 1810, the son of the Marquis Michele Benso di Cavour and Adèle, second daughter of the Count de Sellon of Geneva. As a younger son, Camillo was educated for the army in the military academy in Turin, serving at the same time as a page in the royal household of King Charles Albert. After graduating at the head of his class in 1826, he entered the army as a lieutenant of engineers. Even at this early period he showed the earnestness, concentration, and ability which made the brilliant statesman of later years. He was proficient in the study of mathematics, the languages, and history. His mind was extremely practical, and he never cared for art or romance. He had no taste for military life, and devoted himself while in garrison in the fortress of Bard to the study of economics and English politics. In 1831 he resigned his commission and undertook the management of his father's estate at Leri, in Piedmont. Without any previous knowledge of farming, Cavour soon mastered agriculture in all its details, restored the estate, which had been much neglected, and became a leader in the introduction of progressive methods of agriculture into Piedmont. He ever afterwards loved the work, and found at Leri throughout his life rest from the cares of State. In this occupation and in travel Cavour spent fifteen busy and profitable years. The democratic monarchy of England was always his ideal, and he was a great admirer of Anglo-Saxon liberty. In England he made a thorough study of the political, social, and industrial institutions. In 1847, when the censorship of the press had been abolished in Piedmont. Cavour, realizing the power that this agency might have in the great struggle for which Italy was preparing, established in Turin, with Cesare Balbo and others, a journal, Il Risorgimento, which declared for independence, unity, and reform. A moderate Conservative in his views, a stanch supporter of the monarchy, but a constitutionalist, he satisfied the extremists of neither party, and was far from being a popular leader; but his ability, independence, and courage commanded respect. His greatness was in nothing more marked than in the impersonality of his work. In 1848, when Genoa was about to send a deputation to Turin to ask for a civic guard and the expulsion of the Jesuits, Cavour, at a meeting of journalists held to decide on a course of action, declared that the demands of the Genoese were too moderate, and that a constitution was the only remedy for existing evils. This was for the times, a revolutionary declaration. and especially startling as coming from a Conservative. Cavour had, indeed, been regarded as almost a reactionary, so little was his moderation understood in the passionate politics of the time. Events justified Cavour; in February Charles Albert (q.v.) set his signature to the famous Statuto, the Constitution of Piedmont around which, under Cavour's leadership, all the advocates of Italian liberty and unity gradually rallied. He entered Parliament in 1848, a pronounced advocate of a free and united Italy. This platform was sufficient for him during his whole career. He never separated the two ideals, and he decided at the outset that they could be attained only under the royal House of Savoy. He never sympathized with Mazzini and the Republicans, whose theories he believed ill adapted to Italian conditions. On March 7, 1850, Cavour, speaking on the proposition to abolish the special jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, declared that by persevering in her reform policy Piedmont would be “gathering to herself all the living forces in Italy, and would be in a position to lead the mother country to those high destinies whereunto she is called.” This expression of an aggressive national Italian policy brought Cavour into still greater prominence, and upon the death of the Count of Santa Rosa he was called into the Cabinet, then headed by Massimo d'Azeglio (q.v.), at first as Minister of Agriculture, then as Minister of Commerce and of the Marine. He now gave up his journalistic connections, and entered upon his great career as a State-builder. He also disposed of all his holdings in agricultural and industrial companies. In April, 1851, he was made Minister of Finance, and in the same year, having already become the dominating force in the Ministry, he made the famous alliance with Urbano Rattazzi (q.v.), leader of the Left Centre, by which the two parties of the Centre united in support of the Ministry, in opposition to the Extreme Right and the Extreme Left. It was through this union of moderate parties that Cavour proposed to foster the new Italy. He was never a party man, and looked only to the good of the State. The compact with Rattazzi, known as the connubio, was discountenanced by d'Azeglio, and led to a rupture in the Cabinet (April 15, 1852). Cavour retired temporarily from office, and went to France and England, to find out how the connubio was regarded among those whose aid he hoped to obtain in realizing Italian aspirations. He was reassured by his reception in both countries; but he made up his mind that, of the two, it was France that must be looked to for active support in establishing the new Italy as against Austria. He therefore devoted his energy to winning the man who was then directing the destinies of France — the new Emperor Napoleon. A ministerial crisis occurred on his return to Piedmont, and Cavour became the head of the Government, holding the posts of Minister of Finance and president of the Council. He gave his immediate attention to the material development of the kingdom, the rehabilitation of its finances, and to various reforms, such as the legalization of civil marriage, the suppression of the mendicant orders, and the encouragement of secular education. In 1854 he saw, in an alliance with France and England against Russia, an opportunity to bring Sardinia into the councils of Europe. He brought about the alliance, in spite of the opposition of every one in the country excepting the King and the ministers. Ten thousand troops of the reorganized Sardinian Army were dispatched to the Crimea. It was a dangerous game, and might have failed but for the fatuous policy of Austria, upon which Cavour had counted. The Sardinian contingent won the respect of their allies, Austria's weak course destroyed her primacy in Continental affairs, and at the Congress of Paris (see Paris, Congress of), in 1856, Cavour accomplished his great object in compelling the representatives of the Powers to admit Sardinia to their councils and to take up the condition of Italy for international consideration. At the congress Cavour stood for the aspirations of Italy, and while he gained nothing directly for Sardinia, he secured recognition as an Italian leader, which he desired more. It was Italy, rather than Sardinia or Piedmont, of which he always spoke and thought. While these events were passing he was also engaged in a struggle with the Church over the disestablishment of the religious orders.

The Congress of Paris left the issue between Austria and Sardinia very sharply defined, and made war almost inevitable. Cavour's energies were devoted to preparing for the struggle. He increased taxation, but developed the resources of the country to meet the new burdens. In 1858 he severed political relations with Rattazzi, who supported the King in the affair of the Countess Mirafiori. (See Victor Emmanuel I.) After the unsuccessful attempt of the Italian fanatic Orsini upon the life of Napoleon III., the secret meeting at Plombières was held between the French Emperor and Cavour (July, 1858), at which the agreement was made which was to bring France to the side of Italy in the contest with Austria. Cavour's masterful diplomacy is well illustrated in connection with the Austrian War. To the Englishman, Mr. Odo Russell, who did not believe Austria would be so unwise as to declare war, Cavour said, in the spring of 1859, that he would force her to do so, and named the first week in May as the time. A few days before that time Austria had actually committed the desired indiscretion. The royal speech to Parliament, January 10, 1850, prepared by the King, but revised by Cavour and Napoleon III., voiced the spirit of united Italy against the foreign oppressor. Napoleon hesitated on the verge of war, and sought to have a congress held, and England proposed that all the Italian States should be admitted; but Austria lost its chance of retaining its hold on Italy by refusing to accede to the English proposal, and demanding the unconditional disarmament of Sardinia. Austria's offensive ultimatum to Sardinia left no alternative for Napoleon but to support his ally. In the campaign of 1859 (see Italy) the War Minister, La Marmora (q.v.), took command of the Sardinian forces, and Cavour assumed the onerous duties of Minister of War. When Napoleon, who had declared that Italy should be free “from the Alps to the Adriatic,” made with Austria the Peace of Villafranca, without consulting his ally, and thus abandoned the Italian cause at a time when the expulsion of Austria from the peninsula seemed certain, Cavour was frantic with rage and grief. He resigned his office and went into retirement at Leri, feeling that this betrayal of Italy had disgraced him; but in reality he had become the idol of an Italy which now learned to know the depth of his patriotism and the far-sightedness of his policy. The new Ministry under Rattazzi proved unequal to the situation; in England, the return of the Whigs to power under Lord Palmerston enlisted that country more actively in the Italian interest; and in January, 1860, Cavour returned to his post at the head of the Government. The cession of Savoy and Nice to France, in return for the union of northern Italy, had been agreed upon at Plombières, and Cavour now took his stand upon the execution of the pledge. It was one of the hardest tasks of his life, and the act for which he has been most criticised.

The next move in the campaign for the union of Italy came from southern Italy, in the form of an insurrection in Sicily against the Bourbon Government. This, and Garibaldi's violation of international comity in conducting an expedition in aid of the Sicilian revolutionists, were not planned or promoted by Cavour; but when they had become facts he characteristically winked at their irregularity and prepared to check excesses and to make the most of any opportunity they might offer. When Garibaldi crossed the Straits of Messina and entered the Neapolitan mainland, Cavour sent a Sardinian army into Umbria and the Marches, and another great step toward Italian unity was taken in the contest for southern Italy and the Papal domains. Garibaldi's arbitrary methods made him Cavour's antagonist at this time, though the two men always respected and appreciated each other. (See Garibaldi.) On October 11, 1860, true to his lifelong principles, Cavour secured the passage of a bill by the Piedmontese Parliament authorizing the Government to incorporate such provinces in central and southern Italy as should express their desire therefor by a plebiscite. At the beginning of 1861 all Italy, except Venetia and Rome, was united, and on February 18 the first Italian Parliament met in Turin. Cavour now sought to complete the historic Italy by having Rome made the capital, and in May a vote of Parliament to that effect was passed; but Cavour did not live to see this consummation brought about, nor to see the annexation of Venetia. He died in Turin, June 6, 1861, worn out by the excessive labors and cares of his public life.

Count Cavour never married. The one brief romance of his youth brought color and inspiration into his life through a woman's devoted and unselfish love, hut not even her name is known, and the attachment was far greater on her part than on his. He was beloved by the peasants on his estates, and trusted by the common people generally. His King, whom he served so faithfully, never felt quite comfortable when his masterful subject was in power, but he had implicit confidence in him and believed in his success; and it was so with all his associates — his power lay in the assurance of success. He was admired by European statesmen. Napoleon said at Plombières: “There are only three men in Europe — we two and then a third whom I will not name.” And the veteran Metternich is reported to have remarked: “There is only one diplomatist in Europe; but unfortunately he is against us — it is M. de Cavour.” With all his determination, and his frequent disregard of the nature of the means used to attain his ends, Cavour held firmly to the principles of civil liberty and constitutional government. He was equally distrustful of the doctrinaire republicanism of Mazzini, whom be never liked, and of autocracy in any guise. It is a fine testimonial to his patriotism that be enjoyed the confidence of the exiled Venetian patriot and devoted republican, Manin, in spite of his distrust of Manin's political doctrines. From their first meeting in Paris Manin saw in Cavour the regenerator of Italy. Cavour's writings and speeches on political subjects have been published as Opere politico-economiche del conte Camillo di Cavour (Coneo, 1855), and Discorsi parlementari del conte Camillo di Cavour, published by order of the Chamber of Deputies (Turin, 1863-80).

Consult: Mazade, Le comte de Cavour (Paris, 1877); Massari, Il conte di Cavour (Turin, 1873); Countess Cesaresco, Cavour (New York, 1898); Tivaroni, Storia critica del risorgimento d'Italia (Turin, 1888-97); Artom and Blanc, Il conte di Cavour in parlamento (Florence, 1868); also the memoirs and correspondence of Kossutb, D'Azeglio, Ricasoli, La Farina, and others. A very full bibliography will be found in the little essay by the Countess Cesaresco, and in Stillman, The Union of Italy (Cambridge, 1898).