A Political History of National Citizenship and Identity in Italy, 1861-1950

By Sabina Donati | Go to book overview

Introduction

Dante’s allegorical journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise—The Divine Comedy—was written by Italy’s supreme poet during his melancholic years of forced political exile, while coming to know, away from Florence, “how salt is the taste of another’s bread, and how hard the path to descend and mount by another man’s stairs.”1 The most famous Florentine citizen in history—a White Guelph, “born and grew up on the fair stream of Arno, at the great town”2 and so actively involved in Florentine political affairs as to achieve the position of prior (one of the six highest magistrates)—was obliged to take the road of exile after the opposing faction of the Black Guelphs took power in 1301. Charged with graft and hostility against the pope, he was sentenced to death and, consequently, never returned to his birthplace, dying in the city of Ravenna in 1321. Throughout his life, he defined himself, frequently, as “Florentinus et exul inmeritus” (a Florentine and an undeserved exile) and made reference, recurrently, in his works, to his profound longing for return as well as to his severe disapproval of his co-citizens’ warring hostile politics.3

Almost five and a half centuries after Dante’s death, in the historical context of the Italian Risorgimento and of the Roman Question, the famous General and Left Deputy Giuseppe Garibaldi contemplated, in a nervous state of mind and probably under the influence of the most radical wing of his party, taking an extreme measure as a way of discrediting the Italian king’s government and of countering its action against him: to acquire American citizenship and thus lose automatically his Italian status civitatis and parliamentary position. More precisely, irritated by the Italian government’s decision to arrest him and confine him at Varignano after the disastrous campaign against French and Papal troops at Mentana in 1867, Garibaldi asked the American consul at La Spezia, William T. Rice, whether he could be recognized as an American citizen.4 In this way, he could then invoke the protection of his new state and be rescued from the “unjust” act the Italian government and the

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