Daniele Fiorentino and Matteo Sanfilippo, eds. Gli Stati Uniti e l'unità d'Italia. (Roma: Gangemi, 2004). Pp. 158. ISBN 88-492-0559-7.
The collection of essays edited by Fiorentino and Sanfilippo is a much-needed systematization of the research on the American responses to the process of nation formation that took place in the Italian peninsula around mid-nineteenth-century. Though the essays collected in the volume build upon the work of scholars from the past, especially Giorgio Spini and Howard Marraro, they introduce new perspectives on a topic that has long intrigued historians on both sides of the Atlantic.
While Marraro's foundational 1932 study was entitled American Opinion on the Unification of Italy, with the word "opinion" in the singular, Fiorentino and Sanfilippo's new volume emphasizes the diachronic and synchronic variety of the American response to Italy's political transformation. Specifically, the American reaction to the Italian "Risorgimento," as the process of nation formation was called, varied over time and across social groups. The essay by Giuseppe Monsagrati teaches us that American intellectuals moved from supporting Italian republicanism in the 1840s to adopting philo-monarchical positions after the republicans seemed to them to veer towards socialism. Similarly, Fiorentino highlights the distinction between the administration's official position of neutrality towards anti-reactionary struggles in Europe and the active involvement of consular representatives in Italy and elsewhere in favor of the revolutionary cause. The government's sympathy for liberal movements, he stresses, was tempered by the pragmatic interest in maintaining commercial relations with all parties as well as preventing any European intervention in the American continent, especially in the vexed issue of Spain's control overt Cuba. On the contrary, American diplomats in Italy often betrayed their allegiance to liberalism openly, in some cases allowing Italian patriots the protection of the American flag. Sanfilippo adds one more dimension to the complexity of the American reaction to the unification of Italy by illustrating the fragmentation of the American Catholic opinion. Whereas prior studies have stressed that American Catholics opposed the political unification of Italy because it compromised the temporal power of the popes, Sanfilippo's essay demonstrates that the American Catholic support for the Pope waned after1860 as a result of the Church of Rome's hesitant position during the Civil War. Northern Catholics felt the Pope had failed to support the Union and antislavery in spite of Rome's official position against the slave trade. Southern Catholic resented that the Pope, who had originally sided with the South in hope its victory would break the emerging alliance between Washington and the expanding Kingdom of Savoy, ceased to support it once it became clear the North would win. Either way, American Catholics' disillusionment with Rome was evident in their failure to join the Zouaves, a group of volunteers established for the personal defense of the Pope.
In addition to documenting the multiplicity and the evolution of the American response to the Risorgimento, the essays collected by Fiorentino and Sanfilippo further record the Italians' reaction to changes in the American opinion and their evaluation to American democracy itself, an important subject often ignored by transatlantic criticism. Thus, for instance, the reader learns from Monsagrati that republican leader Giuseppe Mazzini sent a British friend, Jessie Mario, on a speaking tour in the United States in 1858-9 to try and harness support away from the monarchical cause and back to the republican one. Gilles Pécout's essay on the admiration for Piedmont's prime minister, Camillo Benso di Cavour, combines American comments on the Italian diplomat with the analysis of Cavour's own evaluation of the United States, especially his condemnation of Southern slavery on economic grounds. Analogously, Marco Sioli's essay on the New York experience of the republican exile Luigi Tinelli documents the Italian expatriate's views of the United States as a society that failed to provide for its feeblest members. This dual perspective is an important addition to the scholarship on the topic: rather than making Italy only the object of the American gaze, the volume testifies to the reciprocity of the observation.
If any criticism can be made of Fiorentino and Sanfilippo's nice collection is that some of the themes it touches upon remain underdeveloped. Most importantly, while the editors' introduction declares--correctly--that U.S. comments on transatlantic events were also arguments on how to rebuild a nation on the brink of dissolution, I find that the intersection of foreign and domestic issues they announce, while repeatedly hinted at, never receives a sustained discussion. True, Fiorentino tells us that Secretary of State Daniel Webster, in declaring to Austria that that the United States would express its support for movements fostered by its own democratic model, was reminding his own nation of the importance of those principles. Sonia di Loreto similarly highlights that abolitionist Sarah Grimké attempted to awaken the Southern clergy to the horrors of institution they tolerated by comparing the cruelty of the domestic slaveholder to the foreign Catholic Inquisitor's. Still, the intersection of the response to the unification of Italy and the debate on the future of the American union is not fully developed. Of course, the editors are well aware, as they put in the concluding lines of the introduction, that there are many paths they have not been able to fully explore in this volume. The convergence of domestic and foreign in the aftermath of the declaration of the Kingdom of Italy and at the brink of the Civil War is one of them.
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