The Life and Times of Cavour - Vol. 1

By William Roscoe Thayer | Go to book overview

Clericals among them felt the propulsion of that wave of Papal assumption which swept over Europe during the first years of Pius IX's restoration. Most ominously for Piedmont's liberty, the King himself seemed to hesitate. On June 9, 1852, the Chamber of Deputies by a vote of 84 to 35, passed the bill authorizing civil marriage, Immediately, the Clericals besieged Victor Emanuel to reject it. He wrote a personal letter, as from a dutiful son of the Church, to Pius IX, who without warrant published the letter and replied to the King that marriage was a sacrament to be performed by the Church alone; that civil marriage was mere concubinage, and that God would hold the King responsible for allowing his people to live in a state of sin. Victor Emanuel, like most of his Savoy ancestors, stood in awe of his religion. A positivist in politics, where he weighed each event with shrewd common sense, he never questioned the dogmas of his Church, nor quite freed himself from the notion that the Pope could indeed, like a master sorcerer, let loose the invisible agencies of blight against those who disobeyed him. Victor Emanuel not only had to combat this inherited attitude and the urgence of the Clericals, but also the entreaties of his mother and wife, women genuinely devout, who wished to save him from committing sacrilege. These varied influences began to undermine him. He declared at a Cabinet council ( Oct. 21, 1852) that he would never consent to any law displeasing to the Pope, and that he was prepared to make any sacrifice whatever for his country except the sacrifice of his conscience. A few days later, after D'Azeglio's resignation, he called Cavour to form a new ministry and heard a different gospel. For Cavour insisted that the government must neither surrender nor compromise, and he recommended the King, if he were not ready to adopt that position, to seek advisers friendly to the Clericals. When this expedient failed, and Victor Emanuel again summoned Cavour, he took the helm on the understanding that there should be no veering. He agreed, however, not to make a Cabinet question of the Civil Marriage Bill, which was soon to come up in the Senate.2

Viewed through posterity's eyes, nothing can surpass the fitness of Cavour's accession to the premiership. His public career

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2
Stor. Doc., VII, 64-69. D'Azeglio: Politique, 78. Lettere, I, 551-53.

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