Two "Parliamentary Dictators."
Between 1876 AND 1896 Leftist leaders Agostino Depretis and Francesco Crispi dominated Italian politics. Both had been Risorgimento heroes and followers of Garibaldi, but the similarity ends there. Depretis, calm, prudent, and calculating, frequently shared power with the well-meaning but politically inept Benedetto Cairoli. The fiery, temperamental, and controversial Crispi governed from 1887 to 1896. His own worst enemy, Crispi stormed back from a period of political "exile," caused by his allegedly bigamous marital status, to implement domestic and foreign policies that still stir debate. Unfortunately, this argument has impeded a serene discussion of this period’s accomplishments.
Although the term "revolution" with which contemporaries greeted the Left’s coming to power in 1876 is overblown, the event should not be undervalued. Recalling the Left’s origins in Mazzini’s messianic ideology and the revolutionary antecedents of its leaders, contemporaries speculated whether the king would accept turning over power to his former enemies. That he did so is a positive comment on the monarch’s flexibility, the parliamentary state’s solidity, and the Left’s capacity to evolve politically.
As the end of the Right’s term approached, a debate arose within the Left. Deploring the continued stagnation of the South’s economy, Giovanni Nicotera ventilated a proposal by which his group would break off from the Left and ally with groups from the Right sympathetic to southern aspirations. Depretis responded by presenting a comprehensive program in a speech at Stradella on October 10, 1875 (reiterated the next year). He hoped to meet Nicotera’s objection by promising, when the Left came to power, free, compulsory, and lay elementary education, an expanded suffrage, and the expenditure of public monies to address the problems of the country’s areas that had suffered most under the "misgovernment" of the old states or that were unable to improve economic