Proclamazione Repubblica Romama, 1861, Stampatore Rossetti


Napoleon had created the Roman Republic, the first one after that of the times of ancient Rome. In February 1798, French General Berthier, commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to set up so-called republic sisters (to the French one) in Italy, expelled from the pontifical throne Pope Pius VI forming a Republican state. The intervention of the King of Naples, Ferdinand IV, followed, to restore the papal power with his army. It ended that even the kingdom of Naples was conquered and became a republic. The first Roman Republic ended on September 30, 1799, following a second resolute intervention by the Neapolitan army. Ferdinand IV took advantage of the absence of the French troops, who had departed from Rome in the previous days, leaving the republican institutions helpless. He resumed the throne of Pius VI.

In 1848 there was in Italy a multiplication of revolutionary revolts aimed at overcoming the subdivision of the peninsula in the various states drawn by the Vienna Congress in the post Napoleonic restoration. In February, there were the first revolt in Palermo, followed, immediately afterwards, by the revolutionary revival of Naples. As the five-day clashes broke out in Milan, there was the insurrection of the French against the hated monarchy in Paris.

Election of Pius IX

The State of the Church was the poorest and most backward of Western Europe. Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, who had a reputation as a liberal, had been elected Pope, named Pius IX, by the least conservative and most liberal party of the Cardinal College in 1846. The appointment of Pius IX was against the wishes of the Habsburgs of Austria that had sent to Cardinal Gaisruck, Archbishop of Milan, to prevent the election of Cardinal Mastai, considered by the crowned European houses as a dangerous liberal. Gaisruck arrived in Rome too late, Pius IX had already been elected. The new pope immediately turned his attention to the needs of the humble population.

The first his measures sought to overcome the extreme backwardness of state organization and the widespread poverty of the population. Amnesty to political prisoners, constitution of the civic guard, promotion among Italian states of free trades, gave hopeful to the Roman and Italian liberals on the Pope’s intentions. On March 14, 1848, the Pontiff promulgated the constitution with the creation of Chambers elected by popular suffrage.

After the riots of the five days of Milan Pius IX was pressed by the Liberals for the papal army to intervene in favor of the people of Milan. The pope granted that a military expedition also formed by volunteers was prepared, with the official duty of defending the borders with the Veneto, but with the intent to help to the patriots of Veneto and Lombardy. Troops of the Kingdom of Naples, under General Guglielmo Pepe’s command, had already departed from Naples to help the Lombard-Venetians who fought against the Austrians.

On April 29, the pope, urged by some of the cardinals, delivered a speech to the consistory, highlighting that it was the duty of the church to be against any form of war, expressing the discomfort of going against a deeply Catholic state such as the Austro-Hungarian one. The king of Naples, Ferdinand II, listening to the papal talk, ordered the withdrawal of the troops commanded by Pepe. the disobedience of General Pepe and other officers followed, as well as numerous soldiers, who came to Venice to help the Republic of San Marco against the Austrian invaders. The Roman troops, formed by about 10,000 men commanded by General Durando, also decided to disobey the papal speech, continuing in Veneto where they supported the cities that had freed from the yoke of Austria, countering the reconquest attempts of General Josef Radetzky.

Pius IX’s speech of April 29 marked the beginning of active rebellion by the Roman liberals, to whom it was clear that the hope that Pope Mastai had aroused with his first actions was misplaced. The Pontiff, fearing the novelties and wishing to maintain the traditional power of the old papal nomenclature on the state of the church, pulled the brake to his liberalism, forsaking the renewed fervor that invested Italy and Europe. The appointment of Liberal Terenzio Mamiani as head of government was dictated by fear. It followed the occupation of Castel Sant’Angelo, a traditional Pope’s refuge when the situations were particularly dramatic, by the Civic Guard, a popular extraction army.

The Mamiani government was in office only a few days after the head of the government resigned because of the Pope’s hesitating, influenced by the conservative forces present in the church.

After some attempts to establish a new government, shortlisted, Pellegrino Rossi was appointed Prime Minister. He was a liberal who advocated in Italy a “League of princes”, which was opposed to the most moderate idea, but he had the supremacy, of a “Customs League”. The second allowed the pope to move independently in foreign policy, which meant that he did not have to intervene against Austro-Hungarians.

Assassination of Pellegrino Rossi and escape of Pius IX

Everything went down with the murder of Pellegrino Rossi, which took place by the hand of exponents of “Carboneria” on November 15. After many years he realized that the murderer had been Luigi Brunetti. Luigi was the son of the famous patriot Angelo Brunetti, nicknamed Ciceruacchio.

On November 17, a crowd of citizens gave the assault to the palace of the Quirinal, where the pope resided. The event was led by exponents of Carboneria. A cannon was pointed at the door of the palace. There were clashes with some victims among the revolutionaries and Swiss guards defending the palace. Under the pressure of Piazza Pius IX appointed a new government led by Carlo Emanuele Muzzarelli, a priest considered near patriotic circles. In the same time he summoned the diplomatic corps in Rome, declaring to ambassadors that he was forced to make decisions that he considered null. On November 25, the pope escaped from Rome to take refuge in the fortress of Gaeta, under the patronage of the King of Naples. In the days following, many papal nobles and cardinals reached the Pope at Gaeta.

The Pontiff, safe in Gaeta, dismissed Muzzarelli’s government, replacing it with a shadow government that had its seat in the fortified town. The Roman deputies received news of Pius IX decisions, confirmed Muzzarelli and his government. In the same time they sent a delegation from the pope to invite him to return to Rome. The delegation was not received by Pius IX, whose positions became more and more intransigent.

Proclamation of the Republic

A junta was appointed to provide state government and to organize elections for a new constitutional constituent parliament on January 21 and 22, 1849. Pius IX hastened to emit a bull forbidding all “good Christians” to participate in the elections. This ban had the effect of not being able to participate just those who, being observant Catholics, could have voted in favor of moderate candidates, favoring the papacy. Among the elect were also Mazzini and Garibaldi. On February 5, the assembly met for the first time and proclaimed the Roman Republic almost unanimously. Mamiani and a few others voted against. After a few days the assembly approved the republican constitution that in Article 1 proclaimed: “The papacy has fallen in fact and right by the temporal government of the Roman State.”

A triumvirate was appointed, formed by Armellini, Montecchi and Saliceti, then replaced by Mazzini and Saffi, who had the function of appointing the government and deciding on the most important issues concerning the newborn Republic. The Muzzarelli government was confirmed. The first problem that had to be solved by the new rulers was to find the economic resources needed for the reforms that the republic had to carry out in favor of its people. The Church’s state tax system was a medieval organization, with a whole range of guarantees for nobles and clergy, which limited the tax collection decisively.

In order to cope with the ingrained public debt that until then had been repaid with new debts, the government decided to requisition the property belonging to various religious orders and the church. However, they were not sufficient enough. A forced loan was issued to which all citizens with an annuity of more than 2,000 scudo had to subscribe, with an increasing percentage on their riches. Since banknotes were generally rejected by merchants who preferred to be paid with precious metal coins, criminal offenses were imposed for those who did not accept paper money in payments. Ecclesiastical property were requirements to give a home to the humble people who lived in huts. During the brief republican period, the social reform of the state advocated by Mazzini was established.

On February 18, 1849, Pius IX delivered a message to Francis Joseph and other European real homes asking for their intervention to restore his power to the State of the Church. The defeat of Piedmont in the First Independence War gave Josef Radetzky the possibility to intervene also in Central Italy. Austria had already occupied Ferrara with a small military contingent.

Meanwhile, patriots from all over Italy helped to contribute to the defense of Rome, a symbol of united Italy. Luciano Manara, Enrico Dandolo, Goffredo Mameli, Giacomo Medici, Luigi Mezzacapo, deputy prime minister of the war, and his brother Carlo Mezzacapo, who reached the city on June 20th, came in addition to Mazzini and Garibaldi.

Four armies for the return of Pope King

Four of the major European powers answered to Pius IX’s appeal. Radetzky, after confirming Salasco’s armistice, believed to have his hands free to intervene in the State of the Church by virtue of the papal appeal. Before, however, he focused his attention on Tuscany, as the Grand Duchy was an Austrian protectorate. Occupied Florence and restored Grand Duke Ferdinando II on the Tuscan throne, he headed to Bologna with an army of 16,000 men. The city resisted from May 4 to May 15. On May 16, after a violent bombing, Bologna surrendered to imperial troops. The Austro-Hungarian troops continued to Ancona by besieging the city. The heroic resistance of the city lasted until June 21, when the garrison, led by Livio Zambeccari, surrendered. The Austrians admired by the resistance of Anconetans granted the honor of weapons to the defeated.

Meanwhile, General Oudinot, commander of French forces formed by 7,000 troopers embarked on some military ships at the base in the port of Civitavecchia, asked the Republican government of Rome to intervene in Lazio to prevent the intervention of Austria in the Central Italy. The French had the problem that their constitution prohibited military expeditions abroad. Therefore, with the excuse of preventing the Austrian invasion, they concealed their true intentions to reset the pope to his throne. The request was naturally rejected by the Republican authorities.

In the meantime, 600 Bersaglieri of the Lombardy division commanded by Luciano Manara had come to Rome to give help to the defenders of the Rome. On 30 April, 5,000 French soldiers, commanded by Oudinot, presented themselves in front of the walls of Rome. The contingent was welcomed by city defenders with cannon strikes. The French troops were forced to retreat hastily. Rome was defended by 10,000 patriots who had had time to get organized. Garibaldi with Bixio defended the hill of the Gianicolo, Masi with his men stood at Porta Angelica, Savini’s dragons were positioned on the left bank of the Tiber, Galletti commanded the reserve.

The kingdom of Naples also tried to play its part against the Roman republic, it had the titles since it hosted the pope in its territory. Ferdinand II sent an army, strong of 8,500 men commanded by General Winspeare, to the recapture of the eternal city. The Neapolitans clashed with the Romans in two decisive battles. At Palestrina Garibaldi with his men, along with the Bersaglieri of Manara, defeated the avant-garde of the Neapolitan army led by General Lanza. The second encounter took place in Velletri, where Lanza’s forces were reunited with the great army led by King Ferdinand II. General Pietro Rosselli, commanded by 10,000 Roman patriots, assisted by Carlo Pisacane, deployed against the Neapolitans. Ferdinand, taken aback, went back to Terracina, where he crossed Garibaldi and his men. The Neapolitan army managed to unravel and retreat within the boundaries of the kingdom. In fact, the Neapolitans were defeated without fighting any real battle.

On 29 May, a Spanish military expedition attempted to take Rome, starting from Gaeta and arriving in Terracina. They were ignored by revolutionary forces who carefully evaluated their return to Rome and resumed their defensive positions. The Spaniards went on to head to Umbria, not to compete with the French who aimed at Rome.

The Battle of Gianicolo and the end of the Roman Republic

On May 22, 1849, General Oudinot had reorganized his army at that time of 20,000 men. Louis Napoleon, a future emperor, not caring of the French constitution forbidding foreign land conquests, ordered Oudinot to take Rome. He wanted to strengthen his influence on Central Italy, as Austria had its own respect zone on the northern part of the peninsula, while the Bourbon, who were cousins of the royal Spanish, controlled the south. On May 29, Oudinot came under the walls of Rome with 30,000 soldiers, receiving numerous reinforcements, despite the Treaty signed on May 15 by Mazzini and French Ambassador Lesseps, which provided a 20-day truce and then some more 15 days. June 3 French attacked the Gianicolo defended by Garibaldi. A long battle fought between the French and the Roman troops. Goffredo Mameli, wounded to death, died a few days later. Manara with his Bersaglieri came to help Garibaldi. In the evening the French faced the Gianicolo with their positions inside Villa Doria Panphilj.

The following day began the bombing of Rome that the French made from above with their cannons placed near Villa Doria Panphilj. In addition, to reinforce their positions, the Transalpines began digging trenches on via Portuense, towards the Testaccio. The trenches were oblique, allowing the besiegers to approach the city as the digging continued. The following days was a truce that allowed the French to strengthen themselves with the construction of fortifications.

On 10 June, in a row of defenders, General Luigi Mezzacapo’s men, along with Polish troops, clashed with the French at the height of the Gianicolo and, a few days later, at the Parioli. The 12 Oudinot sent an ultimatum to the city authorities to avoid further bombing. The ultimatum was rejected with a reference to the agreements with Lesseps that provided a truce that was formally still ongoing. French bombings on the city resumed with greater intensity.

Between June 21 and 22, there was a massive assault of the besiegers, which forced the troops led by Garibaldi to a partial withdrawal. The defenders agreed a narrower defensive line to increase the effectiveness of resistance.

On 29 and 30 June, there was a violent offensive on the Gianicolo of the troops commanded by Oudinot. Morosini and Manara lost their lives in clashes, along with many other defenders. On the evening of 30 June, the desperate situation in Rome’s defense was clear to all. Only the Tiber separated the French from the rest of the city still in the hands of Republicans.

A truce was agreed to gather the wounded and the dead. Mazzini and Garibaldi communicated to the Constituent Assembly the uselessness of any further resistance that would only bring suffering to the civilian population. The surrender was decided.

On 2 July, Garibaldi held a speech in San Pietro’s Square to invite his legionaries to continue the battle against the alien, following him to reach other cities that still resisted. In the evening Garibaldi, with his wife Anita, and 4,000 fighters came out of the besieged city to reach Venice still resisting the Austrians. General Oudinot was happy to allow the departure of Garibaldi, spiting the Austrians, while at the same time avoiding further embezzling of public opinion and a large part of the French parliament that was deployed in favor of the Roman republicans.

On July 3, the French entered Rome. On 4 July 1849 the Republic was officially abolished.

(Picture at the top: Proclamazione Repubblica Romana, 1861, Stampatore Rossetti)