Marco Minghetti

WITH Marco Minghetti passed away, on the 10th of December, 1886, the last survivor of that group of unselfish, high-souled patriots who, each in accordance with his special gifts, each at his opportunity, united to lead Italy up from her political degradation to independence, to nationality, and to an honored place among the greater European powers.

It was the glory of the Italian revolution and the recompense for much that Italy had borne, that when the fullness of her time had come she had not only one preeminently great constructive political genius, but also a group of statesmen and soldiers to prepare for him, to cooperate with him, and to carry on his work to its consummation, — statesmen and soldiers whose largeness of view and elevation of character, whose singleness of purpose, whose utter self-abnegation and nobility of soul, were betrayed by no lower and more personal ends and aims. Truly glorious, indeed, is the revolution of which it can fairly be said that its successful issue was due even less to the abilities than to the civic virtues of its leaders. Happy the country to whom, in the day of her supreme opportunity, the providence of God gave, with Cavour and Victor Emmanuel, such men also as Mazzini, Gioberti, Balbo, D’Azeglio, Ricasoli, Mamiani, La Marmora, Farini, Garibaldi, and Minghetti. Happy they, too, who, if not compatriots, are at least contemporary with such men, and can tell of them to those who are to come after.

Marco Minghetti was born November 8, 1818, of a family of means and of high social standing, in Bologna; and he was, consequently, a subject of the Papacy. Losing his father in his infancy, he was one of those, of whom the world has had reason to be grateful for so many, whose early education, alike of intellect and character, was a mother’s charge. His academic training, which was a liberal one, was supplemented by extended travel and residence in France, Switzerland, Germany, and England, with especial reference to the study of political institutions and to the acquaintance of public men.

Upon the death of Pope Gregory XVI., in 1846, Minghetti returned at once to Italy. He took a leading part in the preparation of a petition addressed to the Conclave assembled, in June, for the election of a new Pope ; and in August following, being not yet twentyeight years old, he published a pamphlet in reference to the policy of the Cardinal Secretary of State, Gizzi. The next year he was summoned to Rome, and appointed a member of the new Consulta ; and in March, 1848, when Pius IX. granted a constitution and formed a ministry, largely of laymen under Cardinal Antonelli, Minghetti was intrusted with the portfolio of Public Works. He held this post, however, but for a short time; for when the Pope, by his allocation of April 29th, withdrew from all participation in the war against Austria, Minghetti promptly resigned, and, repairing to the camp of Charles Albert, offered his sword to Italy, serving under the king for the rest of the campaign of that year, and receiving from him the cross of cavaliere in recognition of his gallant conduct in the battle of Goito. Recalled to Rome by Prime Minister Rossi, he arrived on the very day of the assassination of that statesman. He took office, indeed, under his successor, Galletti; but thoroughly dissatisfied with his course, he soon returned to the army, and was present on the disastrous field of Novara, March 23, 1849.

Minghetti now retired, for some years, to private life, visiting Turin from time to time for purposes of conference with Cavour ; but when in 1856, at the close of the Crimean war, Cavour represented the cause of Italy as well the King of Sardinia at the Congress of Paris, he selected Minghetti to accompany him thither; as, still later, he called him to Turin, to inform him of the understanding arrived at with Napoleon at Plombières.

During the two following years of patient waiting, Minghetti gave himself up to study, and published several pamphlets and treatises on subjects of political interest; acquiring an ever widening reputation as a statistician and an economist, and illustrating that generous and philosophic confidence in law-guarded liberty which characterized his whole political career.

Early in 1859, Cavour recalled Minghetti from the East, where he was then traveling, to public life, shortly afterwards associating him with himself as his secretary general for foreign affairs. After the peace of Villafranca, Minghetti, of course, resigned with Cavour. Coöperating actively with Farini to secure the independence of the Romagna and its annexation to Piedmont and Lombardy, he took his seat, in 1860, in the first Parliament of North Italy as deputy from Bologna. From this time he continued in active public life until his death.

In October, 1860, Minghetti became Minister of the Interior under Cavour, a position which, after the death of that statesman in June, 1861, he also held for a short time under Ricasoli. The year after, he accepted the portfolio of Finance under Farini ; and in March, 1863, he succeeded the latter as Prime Minister. This position he held, indeed, but eighteen months ; resuming his seat in Parliament for some nine years, with the exception of a few weeks’ service as Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in 1869. In 1873, he was called for the second time to the responsible direction of the government, assuming the portfolio of Finance in connection with the presidency of the Council. In March, 1876, however, the Left acquired the control of Parliament; and the second Minghetti ministry fell, and with it the so-called Moderate party, which had for sixteen years held the government of Italy, and successfully guided her policy and her fortunes through her wonderful revolution.

During the ten years which yet remained of his career, Minghetti was ever faithful to the political traditions which he had inherited from Cavour and which he had represented when himself in office; but he was too true a patriot to be a factious opponent of any ministry. A story is told of him which illustrates his political course during this period. In 1883, under some circumstances of special embarrassment to the ministry then in power, one of his most active and influential political colleagues called to consult him as to the course to be taken by their party. “ We must sustain Depretis,” was Minghetti’s prompt reply. “ What! ” replied the other ; “ and our party, then ? E noi ? ” Minghetti answered, “Our party ! We neither can nor ought to think of ourselves, but only of Italy.”

Two crises in the story of the Italian revolution are, and will ever be associated especially with Minghetti, — crises in which, to all human judging, the fortunes of Italy turned upon his wisdom, political foresight, and disinterested patriotism.

Of these, the one arose during the first Minghetti ministry, and is remembered in connection with what was known as the Convention of September, 1864. The French troops, at that time, still occupied the city and territory of Rome. Venetia remained in the power of Austria. To Italian statesmanship, the former fact presented the more perplexing problem of the two. It was quoted as one of the dicta of Cavour : “ Even were Italy to be entirely freed from Austrian domination in Venetia, it would none the less be very difficult to relieve herself wholly from the presence of the French at Rome, and from their consequent power to interfere in Italy.”

The grounds upon which this French occupation was ostensibly based were not merely the duty of protecting the Holy Father, but also the political necessity of counterbalancing what would otherwise be a possible Austrian ascendency in the peninsula. Minghetti argued, therefore, that the French troops once withdrawn, not only would the way to Rome be left open for some future eventuality, but that it would at once become the interest and the policy of France to promote, in every practicable way, the definitive exclusion of Austria from Venetia. He considered, moreover, that this withdrawal of French occupancy might be secured if Italy would renounce her own right to interfere in Rome, — a right more nominal than real, while the French troops remained, — and undertake herself to guarantee the Pope from all attack on the side of Italy ; and that a sufficient motive could be found in the great irritation which the French occupation of Rome caused throughout Italy, — an irritation which would be to the disadvantage of France in case of war with Prussia.

On these grounds, Minghetti successfully negotiated with Napoleon the Convention of September, in accordance with which the French troops were withdrawn from Rome; Italy undertaking, on her part, to guarantee the Pope against all invasion from without, and also, as a corollary to that guarantee, to remove the seat of government from Turin to Florence.

The advantages to Italy of this convention were not only important, but they were absolute. The sacrifices made to secure these advantages might well prove to be only nominal; or, if real, but provisional and temporary. Though Italy should remove her capital to Florence, and thus seem to renounce her claims to Rome, yet Florence was, after all, halfway to Rome. Though the Italian government should guarantee the Pope from all hostile interference from without, yet the people of Rome were also thereby secured from all foreign interference in support of the temporal power. It was a concession rather to the susceptibilities of France; it was a practical and a real gain to the then future possibilities — nay, to the probabilities — of the Italian revolution.

But it was a convention almost sure to be generally misunderstood, and to be most unpopular. It was a diplomatic policy whose ultimate gain to Italy would not be so manifest as its immediate sacrifices and apparent betrayal of their passionate hopes. It was, therefore, by no means a policy which would have been entertained for an instant by a politician who weighed his own personal ambitions against the good of his country and his duty to his king.

In fact, nothing could well have been less favorably received by the Italian people than such a pledge that Italy would not go to the support of a revolutionary movement in Rome against the Pope. Nothing could well have been more bitter to the Piedmontese than the removal of the capital to any other place than Rome. The convention was executed ; but Minghetti was driven from office by the indignant feeling with which it was generally received.

As a consequent of this convention, none the less, the La Marmora ministry was able to secure the friendly neutrality of France in the war of 1866, and the Ricasoli ministry her friendly mediation between Italy and Austria at the close of that war, by which Venetia was ceded by Austria to France, and by France transferred to Italy. The more immediate object of the convention was, however, lost to Italy in consequence of the Garibaldian attack on Rome in the fall of 1867, — an attack that gave France a sufficient political justification for the prompt reoccupation of that city, which they held for three years more. Yet even this left Italy also free to occupy Rome, and to remove her capital thither, when the French troops were again withdrawn during the FrancoGerman war of 1870.

The second occasion when the political wisdom and foresight of Minghetti were preëminently useful to the interests of Italy was five years afterwards, when he held a subordinate portfolio in the Menabrea ministry of 1869.

Napoleon had proposed a triple alliance between France, Austria, and Italy against any advance of Prussia and the unification of Germany, — an alliance which should have for its immediate object a mutual guarantee of the integrity of the three nations ; and which, in case of successful war, would give to Italy the Tyrol as far as Trent, some modification of the cession of Nice to France, and perhaps a foothold for Italy on the opposite coast of Africa. The king was most favorably inclined towards the proposed alliance, and the majority of the ministry also approved of it.

Minghetti, however, differed from both. He believed that the withdrawal of the French troops from Rome, in consequence of war between France and Prussia, was more probable than that Italy would gain an equivalent advantage from her participation in such an alliance ; and he also believed that the future of Italy was more nearly dependent upon a good understanding with Germany than upon the policy and fortunes of France. This overture was, indeed, renewed in substance a second time, through Austria, as the FrancoPrussian war approached ; but, in the one case as in the other, the arguments and the influence of Minghetti, whether with the cabinet or with the king, were successful in preserving the neutrality of Italy, the great advantage of which she reaped in the power to occupy Rome in 1870. The only serious obstacle to this step, to be considered at the time, was Austro-Hungary ; and Minghetti, being sent to Vienna, was able to secure from Count Beust, not merely non-interference, but a moral support, which, under the circumstances of the time, involved a virtually European sanction to Italy in the occupation of her capital.

Finally, when Minghetti was again, in 1873, at the head of the government, he was able to secure the permanent results of his diplomatic policy. There still remained, after the peace of 1871, a possibility that the question of Rome might, at the instance of France, be reopened. With a view to placing the perfected nationality of Italy on the basis of a formally recognized fait accompli, he proposed to Victor Emmanuel an interchange of visits with the emperors of Austria and Germany. To this, with the memories of the wars of 1859 and 1866, and of his leaning towards France in 1869 and 1870, both in mind, the king was at first most averse. But yielding to the counsels and influence of his minister, he sanctioned the suggestion of these visits, and this being cordially received on the part of both emperors, Victor Emanuel went, accompanied by Minghetti, to Vienna and Berlin. The king was more than warmly welcomed, and the result, of which Minghetti had assured himself, was the formal return of these visits by the German emperor in Milan, and by Francis Joseph, at his own suggestion, in Venice, both in 1875. The Italian revolution, being thus recognized, in all that had been involved therein, by the two great powers of central Europe, a virtual alliance, on the basis of that recognition, resulted between Germany, Austria, and Italy, and the peace of Europe and the stability of the kingdom of Italy were assured.

Since the political reaction which in 1876 brought the Minghetti ministry to an end, and which up to the present time has kept the so-called parliamentary Left in power, Minghetti, though always faithful to his convictions, has, nevertheless, scorned a factious opposition. While, latterly, it has seemed very probable that a politico-ecclesiastical struggle might soon be thrust upon Italy, not a few, even among his political opponents, have believed that it would call him, for the third time, to the direction of affairs. At once a Catholic so decided that none could accuse or suspect him of hostility or even of alienation from the Church of his people, and yet equally firm and uncompromising in his resistance to all ecclesiastical or religious interference, on the part of the Papacy, with the government or national interests of Italy, Minghetti seemed to be the only one left to Italy who could guide her successfully through the perplexities and perils of such a crisis. Minghetti may fairly be regarded as, politically speaking, a virtual Old Catholic ; for, like Ricasoli, he really occupied what would be the political position in which the Italian Old Catholics would of necessity be placed, should such a crisis once arise. It is evident that something of this occupied his mind towards the last, and there seems reason to think that such eventualities had been the subject of personal conference with King Umberto. Among his last words were these, to his wife, a few days before the end : “ I do not intend to make any retractions or declarations whatever. I have ever labored with a clear conception, and with firm and profound convictions. I have nothing to repent of ; but I wish to die in the religion of my fathers.” He was anxious lest some priest, present at his death-bed, should either abuse his failingpowers, or misrepresent his last convictions ; and he expressly asked for his friend, Canonico Anzino, the chaplain of the late as of the present king. This good priest, telegraphed for, hastened to him. To him Minghetti said, “ With you I am tranquil. In God have I always believed.” To the king, coming to his bedside, “ I could have wished to live only that I might still serve my country and thee.” And as his mind wandered, towards the last, “ I must render other services to the country. The king said so. Let me rise. I will retract nothing. I am a Christian, but also a patriot.”

Had Marco Minghetti lived, to him alone, of Italian public men, would the overwhelming majority have turned instinctively in a great political emergency. He has left none behind him of whom as much can now be said. The statesman who, in such a crisis, is to render a great service to his country is yet unknown ; or, if he be among those who are now coming forward to take up the work bequeathed to Italy by the associates and co-workers of Cavour, the opportunity has not yet singled out and revealed his name to history.

“ After the Count de Cavour,” says the Nazione, “ Marco Minghetti was the most liberal spirit that remained to labor for the redemption of Italy. . . . He never doubted liberty ; nor had he any suspicions or fears of its advances. . . . Minghetti was a statesman whom the greatest nations of the world must admire and envy us. . . . As an orator he was preëminent ; but it is impossible to say whether his discourses were powerful rather for fullness and accuracy of thought, or for the beauty and splendor of their form. . . . And in such a lofty and uncontested superiority Marco Minghetti was humble.”

Clear in thought, fresh and eloquent in language, and forcible in utterance, the intention and purpose of his policy was ever plain to every one. There was no darkening of counsel in his public speech. Sanguine of temperament, he was sometimes disposed to undervalue the difficulties to which any given policy was subject; but he was one of those, of whom there are but few among the public men of any people, to whom the thought of consequences to himself in no way entered into the question of what was or was not best for the interests of which he was put in trust.

Italy may have other sons who shall yet prove the equals of Minghetti as statisticians and publicists ; who may exert an equal influence upon the floor of Parliament ; who may, like him, “ ennoble the political and parliamentary struggle ” in which they take part; but she can ask of them no more than that there may be found among them one, at least, who to his refinement, culture, and erudition, to his calm, clear, business-like knowledge of men and profound insight into affairs, to his unsullied reputation, and to the pure and elevated dignity of his private life and personal character shall add the modesty which can quietly remain in retirement, combined with the courage which shrinks from no responsibility — the wisdom which knows how to act together with the self-abnegation which acts with no less decision and energy, though it be certain that such action will involve the political sacrifice of self.

The Italian revolution has given to the history of the generation now almost gone the memory of men, the study of whose lives and characters were an example to set before our own publicists, and especially before our sons, the quality of whose work in the world is yet to be determined ; and among these, one of the noblest and the last to be taken from his Italy has been Marco Minghetti.

Wm. Chauncy Langdon .