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Popular Participation, Italy, 1848-49

The Italian revolutions of 1848-49 enveloped artisan, working class and peasant men and women in the myriad of activities within and outside the piazza. Before the events of March 1848 the poor harvest of 1846-47 produced protests in food riots from north to south, and since the 1820s Calabria and Basilicata had been engulfed in peasant uprisings against landowners' usurpations of communal lands. Forms of Ludditism appeared in textile areas of Lombardy before the "Five Glorious Days," and anti-foreign feelings were expressed against Swiss companies in Salerno or, in September 1847, against porters from outside Livorno by its dock workers. Freedom of the press and the establishment of innumerable political circles, especially democratic ones, helped to mobilize this social protest to the politics of revolution, especially in Venetia, Lombardy, Tuscany and southern Italy. Thus artisans joined day laborers and sharecroppers in early phases of the revolution; the "Five Glorious Day" in March 1848 forced the Austrians out of Milan, while Venetian arsenal and tobacco workers and artisans precipitated the revolution in support of Daniel Manin's republic. Earlier in January, popular participation supporting Neapolitan liberals provoked Ferdinand II on January 18 to decree a constitution. Liberal governments, as they were instituted, debated whether to include workers and peasants in the national and civic guards being established. In Sicily and Tuscany, peasants and workers were excluded while in the more radical parts of Calabria peasants were recruited with unfulfilled promises of land. Workers, artisans and peasants shouted "Vivas" to constitutions falsely perceived as guaranteeing the right to organize, the right to work in the case of Livorno, or the right to land ownership in Basilicata where the sharecroppers claimed that Ferdinand II's constitution freed them of services to the clergy. While peasants in Lombardy answered the recruitment call for national defense, Tuscan landowners were reluctant to arm their sharecroppers and feared the attempts by radicals, especially in their stronghold of Livorno, to recruit the day laborer. In April and May 1848 artisans and workers demonstrated for better wages or working conditions or food price controls in major cities and towns as peasant agitation enflamed Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia demanding the restoration of communal lands and civic uses. Republicans like Francesco Guerrazzi enlisted artisan and worker support in driving the landowning liberal Florentine government from power in October and establishing a republic by February 1848; yet Guerrazzi stopped short of meeting the demands of an economic program disruptive of Tuscany's sharecropping system. Manin's Venetian republic failed to create a peasant army and radicals in Calabria hoped to maintain the support of the peasantry without addressing the question of land redistribution thus driving many into "sanfedism" and the hands of the church. Republican governments in the early months of 1849 attempted to eliminate some consumption and salt taxes or to favor wage increases, but much popular political support became alienated. Though the Tuscan republic enlisted a massive urban support of workers and artisans for the constituent assembly in Rome and in February 1849 staged republican festivities for the symbolic planting of trees of liberty in many Tuscan communes, the sharecropper remained loyal to the landowner who supported the grand duke's restoration. While the patriotic songs of the Italian revolutions addressed idyllic themes of Italian fraternization across the peninsula, the popular particular ism with political regionalism serving as a cloak.

Marion S. Miller


Della Peruta, Franco. I democratici e la rivoluzione italian: Dibattiti ideali e contrasti politici all'indomani del 1848. Milan: Feltrinelli Editore, 1958.

Candeloro, Giorgio. Storia dell'Italia moderna. III: La rivoluzione nazionale 1846-1849. Milano: Feltrinelli Editore, 1960.

Ginsborg, Paul. Daniele Manin and the Venetian revolution of 1848-49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Miller, Marion S. "Communes, commerce and coloni: internal divisions in Tuscany 1830-1860," The Historical Journal, 21 (1978), 837-61.

Pedio, Tommaso. Classi e popolo nel Mezzogiorno d'Italia alla >vigilia del 15 maggio 1848. Bari: Edizioni Levante, 1979.

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