Giuseppe Mazzini


March 10, 1872: Death of Giuseppe Mazzini

The 1840s and 1850s were a period of turmoil in Europe, as revolutions by Poles, Danes, Germans, Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Croats and Romanians overthrew (temporarily at least) long-established monarchies in favor of socialism, republicanism or anarchy.

Mazzini (1805-1872) was one of these revolutionaries – he championed a combination of Christianity and socialism. Like many revolutionaries he spent years in exile, plotting the next uprising. I like to picture his bronze sculpture sneaking south in the dark of night to conspire with his fellow Italian Garibaldi, whose statue (also by Turini) stands in Washington Square Park. Or he might slip over to Riverside Drive at 113th St., to have a quiet word with Hungarian nationalist Lojas Kossuth, of whom he reported in 1853:

Kossuth and I are working with the very numerous Germanic element in the United States for his [Franklin Pierce's] election, and under certain conditions which he has accepted. Of these conditions he has already fulfilled enough to give us security that he will carry out the rest. He was to appoint American representatives in Europe who would be favorable to us and would help us; and almost all his nominations are such as we desired. He was to give to all battleship commanders instructions opposed to Austria and the despotic governments: he has done it and you have an indication in the conduct of the commander of the frigate at Smyrna. He had promised to give orders to all his diplomatic agents to recognize immediately whatever insurrectionary republican government should be established in an Italian or Hungarian province, and he states that he has done so. -- Mazzini, quoted in Mazzini, Portrait of an Exile, by Stringfellow Barr (Henry Holt, 1935), p. 217.]

The American National Biography notes that Franklin Pierce’s secretary of state and some of the diplomats appointed by him to European posts were indeed involved in anti-monarchical plots; one of them caused a crisis with Austria-Hungary.

The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Italian Independence Movement

The men most responsible for Italy’s eventual unification were Mazzini, Garibaldi, and Cavour. The Conte di Cavour was a politician’s politician. Giuseppe Garibaldi was a soldier’s soldier. And Mazzini was a thinker’s thinker, who believed that the right ideas could change the world. "Great revolutions,” he said, “are the work rather of principles than of bayonets, and are achieved first in the moral, and then in the material sphere."

For 40 years Mazzini flitted through Europe, persecuted by the Austrians, the French, the Swiss, the British, and the Pope. Often in disguise or under an alias, he fled from Milan to Genoa, London to Marseilles, Sicily to Pisa. Young Carl Schurz, meeting Mazzini in London, felt as if he had been invited to the workshop of a master magician who was able to evade authorities “as if the earth had swallowed him.”

Further Readings