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The Italian unification, started in Italy by popular revolts against Austrian control, parallels in some ways yet contrasts in other the unification of Germany, brought on by Prussia’s desire to become a major world power once again. The conditions before the unification were in many ways similar in the two regions—both were divided into several small, competing states that kept one another in a balance of power. However, once the unification started, the two most influential figures, Cavour in Italy and Bismarck in Prussia, differed quite a bit in their treatment of the situation, in everything from their relationship with the people to that of other countries. While in the end the outcome was the same, a unified Italy with the exception of the papal states and a unified German Confederation with the exception of Austria, deeper probing reveals some apparent differences in the way in which this unity came about.
These unification movements, rising up from the loose collaboration of states in both Germany and Italy, quickly vary in the method in which the change began. The Italian unification was internal, really beginning with the northern Italian peoples’ popular revolt against Austrian rule. Although it can be said that the unification began with Victor Emmanuel in Sardinia, the major political changes began with this revolt and the efforts of northern and central Italy to join with Sardinia. On the other hand, the German unification had much more of an external cause: Prussia’s hunger for power, especially over Austria.
Economic unity began to form earlier on. Before Italy joined with Sardinia, new highways and railroads had already been constructed by Sardinia’s chief minister, Count Camillo Benso di Cavour. In Germany, the Zollverin had formed among most of the states, except for Austria. Later, this exclusion would allow Prussia a great advantage in its struggle to suppress Austria altogether. This loose economic unity formed the basis of change to unite the Italian and German regions.
The two most influential characters in these two unifications were Bismarck and Cavour. Bismarck, an ultraconservative, was put into power in Prussia to control a middle class parliament dissatisfied with William’s military budget. Paying little attention to the people, he proceeded in collecting illegal taxes and ruling without the consent of parliament. Cavour, on the other hand, responded to the Italian’s choice to take a middle ground between Mazzini’s radical plans and the Catholic Church’s all too conservative plans for Italian unification, reflecting this in his style of governing. While Bismarck was making quite a few radical changes in the structure of government and the army, Cavour did just enough to unite the Italian city-states without upsetting anyone too greatly.
Both men can be considered quite crafty and perceptive, taking advantage of situations as they came, although perhaps Bismarck displayed it more often. When Garibaldi’s guerrillas were marching on Palermo, Cavour let them win a victory for the unification there, but when they began to marched toward Rome, he quietly stopped them to avoid war with France, strong supporters of the pope. Yet Bismarck managed to create a sense of participation in government by maintaining parliament, granting universal manhood suffrage, and allowing the German states to keep local governments, while maintaining the ultimate control of the King of Prussia and simultaneously fooling many liberals in parliament to justify and approve of his previous illegal actions. In addition, when the South of Germany was reluctant to join with Prussia and the other German states due to their differences in culture, Bismarck fought a war with France, immediately sending a national pride throughout the region. And, after his reorganization of the army, the French army proved no match for the Prussian forces. Even early on in the German unification, Bismarck proved much more of an opportunist and a pragmatist that Cavour had ever been. By making a secret alliance with Alexander II by aiding Russia in the suppression of a Polish uprising and another with Napoleon III of France by promising him some land along the Rhine, Austria stood without a chance and was forced out of the German Confederation.
In all, the same result was achieve in both Italy and Germany. By gaining territory in segments rather than trying to unite an entire country at one time, both Cavour and Bismarck managed to successfully unite the people of those regions. However, Bismarck’s reforms were more radical and had less to do with the people’s wishes, as it tended to in Italy, than it did with the reassertion of Prussia as the World Power. Perhaps it is due to these radical reforms, however, that Germany’s unification was more strongly tied, unlike the class division, limited voting rights, and conflict between an industrial north and an agrarian south that occurred in Italy. Yet, the goal of unification was realized in the end.