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Louis Napoleon and Italy

Karl Marx

Every day throws new light on the words and acts of Napoleon III in Italy, and helps us to understand what freedom "from the Alps to the Adriatic"[a] means on his lips. The war, so far as he was concerned, was only another French expedition to Rome—on a grander scale in all respects, to be sure, but in motive and results not dissimilar to that "Republican" enterprise[364]. Having "saved" France from a European war by concluding the treaty of Villafranca, the Liberator is now about to "save" Italian society by the compulsory restoration of the princes, whom a word from the Tuileries drove from power, and by the military suppression of popular movements in Central Italy and the Legations[b]. While the British press was teeming with vague conjectures and on dits[c] as to the probable changes which the stipulations of Villafranca were likely to undergo in the Conference at Zurich, and Lord John Russell, with the incorrigible indiscretion that induced Lord Palmerston to intrust the seals of the Foreign Office to him, felt himself warranted in the solemn declaration to the House of Commons[d] that Bonaparte would abstain from lending his bayonets to the dethroned princes, the Wiener Zeitung of August 8 appeared, headed by the following official declaration:

"The Zurich Conference is about to meet, in order definitively to conclude the peace of which the main features were agreed upon at Villafranca. It is difficult for one who considers this evident significance of the Conference, to understand how the press, not only abroad but even in Austria, could have felt at liberty to express doubts with respect to the execution or the practicableness of the Villafranca stipulations. Sealed by the signs manual of the two Emperors, those peace preliminaries possess the guaranty of their execution- in the pledges and the power of two monarchs."[e]

This is plain language. On the one hand, there are the vain declamations of the deluded Italians; on the other hand, there is the "Sic volo, sic jubeo"[f] of Francis Joseph and Louis Bonaparte, which is backed by bayonets, rifled cannon and other "armes de précision"[g]. If the Italian patriots refuse to yield to oily persuasions, they must give way to brute force. There is no other alternative, Lord John Russell's declaration—which he probably uttered in perfect good faith, as it was only put in his mouth that it might help to get rid of the British Parliament during the period appointed for crushing Italy under the iron heel of the allied despots—to the contrary notwithstanding. As to the Pope's temporal power in the Legations, Louis Napoleon did not even wait for the end of the war to dictate its maintenance. The preliminaries of Villafranca stipulate for the restoration of the Austrian princes in Tuscany and Modena. The return of the Duchess of Parma to power was not included in the stipulations, for Francis Joseph wished to wreak his vengeance upon that princess for having declined openly to pin her fortunes to those of Austria. Yet with his native magnanimity Louis Napoleon has condescended to listen to the humble prayers of the donna errante[h]. Through the instrumentality of Walewski he has pledged his word of honor to Sr. Mon, the Spanish Embassador at Paris, who is also the Plenipotentiary of the Duchess, that she shall be restored to a throne over the same extent of territory as before, with the single exception, perhaps, of the fortress of Piacenza, which is to be made over to Victor Emmanuel in case he behave well at the Conference at Zurich. At the idea of playing protector to the sister of the Bourbons, the parvenu not only felt immensely flattered, but thought that he had at last hit upon a sure means of conciliating the good will of the Faubourg St. Germain[365], which had hitherto scornfully repulsed his advances and held toward him a haughty attitude of reserve.

But how was the "Liberator of Nationalities" to become the missionary of "Law and Order," the savior of "instituted society"? How successfully assume this less poetic role? It was a long step downward. To create and protract the incertitude of the public as to the true meaning of the Villafranca preliminaries, and to indulge it with wild rumors and sage conjectures, was obviously one method gradually to prepare Europe for the worst. Lord Palmerston, who hates Austria, professes to love Italy, and is notoriously the confidant of Napoleon III, has helped the Man of December over this slippery ground. Having ousted the Derby Ministry, because of their Austrian sympathies, Palmerston seemed to have pledged himself to all Europe, and especially to Italy for the upright intentions of Napoleon III, his august ally. And so, he has quietly put Parliament out of the way, if, indeed, he has not sent it home with a deliberate falsehood in its ear. His positive declaration that England had not yet made up her mind whether or no to participate in the European Congress[i]—which will probably sanction the conclusions of the Zurich Conference, and thus lighten the burden of odium which would otherwise rest upon Napoleon's shoulders, by distributing it among all the Powers of Europe,—is contradicted by the Prussian papers, which have published a semi-official note, stating that England and Russia have conjointly called upon the Court of Berlin, and demanded its concurrence in this European Congress.[j]

Napoleon's second step, which he did not take until the feverish excitement of the public mind had been somewhat allayed, was in Sardinia. He strove to induce Victor Emmanuel to do his work for him—a thing not easily to be managed. Whatever Austria and her dependents had lost, Victor Emmanuel seemed to have gained. He had become, in point of fact though not yet in name, the regent of Central Italy and of the Legations, the inhabitants of which countries generally proclaimed his dynasty out of hatred to Austria, if not from love of Piedmont. The first demand which the French crusader of liberty made of his new vassal was that he should resign his official leadership of the popular movement. This Victor Emmanuel could not" refuse. He withdrew the Sardinian commissioners from the Duchies and the Papal territories, recalling Boncompagni from Florence, Massimo d'Azeglio from the Romagna, and Farini (in his official capacity at least) from Modena.[366]

But the Imperial liberator was not yet satisfied. From previous experience in France he had seen reason to conclude that under proper management popular suffrage forms the best machinery in the world by which to establish a despotism upon a firm and comely basis. The King of Sardinia was, consequently, requested to operate upon the popular elections in the insurgent provinces so as to make the restoration of their princes appear to be the will of the people. Victor Emmanuel would not, of course, hear of a request, the fulfillment of which was sure to blight forever the prospects of Italian freedom, and to change evvivas into a general cry of execration throughout the Peninsula. He is said to have answered Count de Reiset, the French tempter, in these words:

"Monsieur, I am, first of all, an Italian Prince; do not forget that fact. The interests of Italy appear to me of more consequence than those of Europe, to which you have been pleased to allude. I cannot lend the authority of my name to the restoration of the dethroned princes; I will not do so. I have already been too indulgent in allowing things to follow their own course as they do."

And the chivalrous King is even said to have added:

"If armed intervention is determined upon, you will hear from me. As to the Confederation, my interest and my honor are alike opposed to it, and I will, therefore, combat it to the death."[k]

Soon after this reply was transmitted to Paris, the famous article of Granier de Cassagnac on Italian ingratitude[l], containing the sinister intimation that if the protection of a mighty hand was withdrawn, the Austrian eagle would soon perch on. the royal palace of Turin, made its appearance. Victor Emmanuel was presently informed that his possession of Piacenza would depend on his good behavior, and that the relative influence of the Italian Princes in the proposed Confederation was still a matter of debate. And the final blow was given to him by bringing the question of the nationality of Savoy upon the carpet, accompanied with an intimation that, if Bonaparte had aided Victor Emmanuel in freeing Italy from the yoke of Austria, he could hardly refuse to free Savoy from the yoke of Sardinia. These menaces soon assumed a tangible shape in the agitation which, on a signal from Paris, broke out among the feudal and Catholic party of Savoy.

"The Savoyards," exclaimed a Paris paper, "are weary of spending their money and shedding the blood of their sons for the Italian cause."

This was a strong argumentum ad hominem to Victor Emmanuel and if he has not directly accepted the task set before him, there is some reason to fear that he has at least promised to pave the way for armed French intervention. If the intelligence contained in the telegram dated Parma, Aug. 9, according to which "the Piedmontese have been driven from the city, and the Red Republic proclaimed, while property-holders and the friends of order are taking flight,"[m] is to be relied upon, it is ominous of the future. But true or false, it may well be the signal for the "Savior of Order and Property," to intervene, to march his Zouaves against the "incorrigible anarchists," and to clear the road for the returning princes, one of whom, the son in whose behalf the Grand Duke of Tuscany[n] abdicated, has met with a "cordial reception" at the Tuileries. And the French troops, who are on their way home, have received orders to stay in Italy, so that the obstacles in the way of successful negotiations at Zurich will soon disappear.

Written in mid-August 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5725, August 29, 1859 as a leading article;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1488, August 30, 1859
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 938, September 3, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Napoleon III, "Proclamation, L'empereur au peuple français:", Le Moniteur universel, special edition, May 3, 1859.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, p. 357.—Ed.

[c] Rumours.—Ed.

[d] John Russell's speech in the House of Commons of July 22, 1859, The Times, No. 23366, July 23, 1859.—Ed.

[e] The declaration from the Wiener Zeitung of August 8, 1859 (evening edition) is quoted in the Allgemeine Zeitung, No: 223, August 11, 1859.—Ed.

[f] "Thus I wish it, thus I order it" (Juvenal, Satires, VI, 223).—Ed.

[g] Precision weapons (rifled guns).—Ed.

[h] Lady-errant.—Ed.

[i] Lord Palmerston's speech in the House of Commons on August 8, 1859, The Times, No. 23380, August 9, 1859.—Ed.

[j] The Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 223, August 11, 1859.—Ed.

[k] Cf. "Nouvelles d'Italie (Correspondance particulière de L'Indépendance belge). Turin, 5 août", L'Indépendance belge, No. 221, August 9, 1859.—Ed.

[l] A. Granier de Cassagnac, "Ingratitude de l'Italie", Le Constitutionnel, No. 215, August 3, 1859.—Ed.

[m] "Telegraphische Berichte. Wien, 11. August", Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 224 (supplement), August 12, 1859.—Ed.

[n] The reference is to Ferdinand IV and his father Leopold II.—Ed.

[364] The reference is to the dispatch of an expeditionary corps to Italy in April 1849 under the pretext of defending the Roman Republic. Initiated by the President of the French Republic, Louis Bonaparte, this invasion of the Roman Republic aimed at restoring the Pope's temporal power (see K. Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 45-145).

[365] St. Germain—an aristocratic district in Paris.

[366] The Sardinian commissioners were sent by Victor Emmanuel to Florence, Modena and Romagna (the Papal states) which were in revolt against Austrian rule, to prepare the annexation of these territories to Piedmont. Following the conclusion of the Villafranca Peace Treaty (see Note 315) which aroused a protest movement throughout Italy, and under pressure from France, Victor Emmanuel recalled the commissioners.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.482-486), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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