The First War For Italian Unity
By the time Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, he faced passive or outright opposition throughout his empire. A guerrilla war raged in Spain while in Italy widespread dislike of the Napoleonic order affected all regions and classes. The Continental System suffocated the middle class, which Napoleon’s economic and legislative reforms had initially stimulated; his desire to create loyal, apolitical functionaries and his aversion to persons with potential political programs alienated the rich bourgeoisie and nobility, the bedrock of his social stability policies; his fight with the Church culminated in the pope’s arrest and alienated the clergy. The peasantry, damaged by a pro-landowner and high tax policy, was now further exasperated by conscription and the heavy casualties of the Napoleonic Wars.
Nevertheless, French reforms and Italian reaction to them helped significantly in extending the principles of unity and independence for the peninsula. Italy remained rural, the peasants uneducated, and most Italians lacked a national consciousness, but if the desire for unity had previously taken root among radicals and influential intellectuals, it now spread to at least part of the middle class and would soon take on a life of its own. By creating new states, no matter how dependent, the French raised Italian national consciousness. Although it would not be true to say that the desire for unification was widespread among Italians, by 1812 they understood both the economic benefits that a larger trading area would bring and that France exploited a conquered Italy for its own purposes. For intellectuals at least, the jump from there to a demand for unification would not be a large one.
Since the Napoleonic police system prevented open opposition, Italians formed secret societies. Originating in eighteenth century Freemasonry, these societies had diverse political orientations, organizations, and rituals but became con-