The Hunchback's Tailor: Giovanni Giolitti and Liberal Italy from the Challenge of Mass Politics to the Rise of Fascism, 1882-1922

By Alexander De Grand | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

A Disastrous Beginning: The Presidency of the Council of Ministers, 1892–1893

THE FORMATION OF GIOLITTI’S FIRST CABINET

Giolitti’s first government was premature. For all his authority on budget matters, Giolitti was not considered an authoritative figure in parliament. In contrast to Agostino Depretis or Francesco Crispi or Giuseppe Zanardelli, he had risen very rapidly. Consequently, he was surrounded by men who felt that their claim to power was superior to his. The new ministry was a creation of the crown and was sustained from the beginning by royal favor. Giolitti’s efforts to create his own political base through new elections proved illusory, and his management of the elections and the subsequent banking scandal attached an aura of scandal and corruption to his name that would never completely dissipate. Yet despite all the negatives, the first ministry provided a glimpse of the future Giolitti. As interior minister he revealed a mastery of the electoral machinery. He also traced a new direction in dealing with labor unrest. Nonetheless, in late 1893, amid the wreckage of his government, it was hard to see that Giolitti would ever have another chance as prime minister.

Giolitti drew his first government from a minority of the liberal left: Zanardelli’s followers, the Giolittians of Piedmont, some Southerners like Pietro Lacava and the Neapolitan Pietro Rosano, and part of the extreme left. Vital to success was the backing of King Umberto I, who immediately settled on Giolitti, once he received assurances about the military budget and the reappointment of Luigi Pelloux and Simone de Saint-Bon, the two military ministers. 1 Crispi’s heavy-handed attempt to block Giolitti by advising Umberto that the presidency of the Council of Ministers had to go to someone of the stature of Bismarck in Germany, not to an untested political unknown, only made the monarch more

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