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Daniele Manin (1804-1857)

Daniele Manin (1804-1857), a descendent of the Veronese Jewish Medina family, who converted to Christianity in the 18th century, his fathe r was given the name Pietro Manin in honor of the sponsor of his baptism, who was also the brother of the last doge of Venice. Daniele's mother, Anna Maria Bellotta was from Padua. On May 13, 1804, Daniele Manin was born in Venice, in the Campo San Agostino parish. He married Teresa Perissonetti, who bore a daughter, Emilia, and a son, Giorgio. While studying law, Manin mastered many languages, and wrote several books on Jewish and Christian religious themes. An intellectual and a patriot, Manin was immediately drawn into the nationalist movement, although at first he preferred local autonomy under Austria, then became a liberationist, and, finally, a unificationist. His rank among the progenitors of Italian nationalism is slightly below the mythmakers, Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II, and Gioberti.

Manin's initial focus was on the "legal struggle". In 1840, he attracted wide attention by his successful championing of the Venice-Treviglio-Milan railway line, in opposition to the Venice-Belluno-Bergamo-Milan route desired by Austrian and Italian businessmen. Manin understood the political, as well as the economic, implications of a more direct linkage of Venice and Milan, particularly significant in the wake of Austria's stubborn refusal to fulfill her 1815 pledge to grant home rule to Venetia and Lombardy.

Austria's uncompromising attitude drove Manin to open agitation, climaxed by his arrest on January 18, 1848, and speedy release. The incident transformed Manin into a hero overnight. As revolutions erupted across western and central Europe in the spring of 1848, Manin threw himself into the liberation battle. On March 22, he led a march of volunteers into the arsenal, the immense dockyard symbolizing Venice's past fame and glory. The anti-Austrian animus of the Italian workers, the Arsenalotti, and the reluctance of Austria's Italian soldiers guarding the shipbuilding and munitions center to fire on the intruders, convinced Manin that Venice was ripe for a bold strike. Manin headed his delirious followers shouting, "Long Live St. Mark!" The new life of Venice had begun.

The cry that invoked popular memories of Venice's former republican dominance was probably immature. In the negotiations to legalize the takeover, the Austrian authorities stubborn refused Manin's demand to acknowledge Venice's republican status officially. Still, Manin succeeded in soothing the disappointed populace, and, in return, they elected him president of the republic by acclamation with extraordinary powers. Manin's forceful action at the arsenal and his unilateral proclamation of the Republic of St. Mark triggered insurrections in Venice's seven mainland provinces, especially in their capitals: Belluno, Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Udine, and Vicenza. But in Verona, because it was the key to the Quadrilateral defense system, Austria insured effective control by maintaining the necessary forces. The lagoon and mainland were once again united.

The ease of capture of the a rsenal, the lagoon, and all but one of the mainland provinces induced a euphoria which stupefied Manin and the revolutionary forward guard, causing damaging errors in judgment and policy. The birth of the republic always remained the chief obstacle to a stable coalition or alliance with Lombardy and Piedmont. It provoked sharp disagreements and exacerbated divisions among Venetian patriots: among the laic conservative liberals elements wishing a moderately progressive monarchical constitutional state on the Piedmontese model, who argued with republicans favoring a federated Italy, as well as the Mazzinian republicans preferring a unitary, democratic, republican Italy, along with Gioberti's followers, to say nothing of the neo-Guelphs, staunch advocates of a tripartite confederation of the peninsula (north, central, south) under Pius IX. On the other hand, a resolute and steadfast adherence to the republican solution might have energized Italy, drawing the charismatic Garibaldi and his legions to Venice, who in turn would have intensified pressures on Austria, in temporary distress while several major areas of her empire simultaneously revolted.

The Austrian fleet anchored at Pola escaped capture because of Manin's indecision, aggravated by ailments and chronic fatigue which confined the dictator to bed at critical moments. This negligence was a serious mistake because both Italians and the Dalmatian Slavs in the fleet crews detested Austria and might have delivered the flotilla to Venice. Such an adroit impoundment of the ships would have weakened Austria and precluded the possibility of utilizing the fleet to blockade Italy. Similarly, Manin allowed units of Austria's Italian army to slip away or to scatter without endeavoring to win them for the new regime. Contrary to remonstrates of major provincial personalities, Manin and his advisors declined to conscript Venetia's male inhabitants. A broadly based military force would have provided the revolution a trained and indigenous instrument and wo uld have countered the mainlanders' accusation that Venice questioned their loyalty and intended to resume her former hegemonic relationship. In the end, Venice had to rely on other states for assistance.

The shortcomings caused a loss of momentum. A lack of vision, foresight, and statesmanship added to the weight of the enormous difficulties. Manin simply did not tap the reservoir of good will in the peninsula in the aftermath of his opening blow on the arsenal. The hastily improvised militia, the Crusaders, met the Austrian contingents at Montebello and Surio on April 8, 1848. Despite dash and courage, the volunteers did not distinguish themselves in the encounters and many deserted. In another disaster on May 8, mere skirmishes caused a panic among General Giovanni Durando and Colonel Andrea Ferrari's papal regulars and Venetia volunteers at Cornuda, which allowed General Nugent to converge with Marshall Radetzky at the Quadrilateral. On April 29, 1848, Pius IX declared the Papal States' neutrality in the Piedmontese-Austrian war. This meant that citizens of the Papal States who were fighting for Venice or for Piedmont were defying their sovereign. News of the papal declaration precipitated a surrender and extensive desertions among the papal forces. Radetzky's victory in the third battle of Vicenza on June 10 dashed optimism generated by the arrival of an Neapolitan expeditionary force under General Pepe on the morrow of the successful revolution in Sicily. Charles Albert, Durando, and Pepe failed to coordinate a joint maneuver against the Austrians.

Venice had little alternative to the desperate measure of fusing with Piedmont, which the newly elected Venetian assembly approved by a 127-6 vote on August 11, 1848. Momentarily, President Manin surmounted republican charges of betrayal and the grievances of the Piedmontese party with Venice's insincere and dubious connection with Piedmont. The putative marriage lasted five days. On the eleventh, news reached Venice that General Salasco had signed an armistice with Radetzky on August 9. Charles Albert avoided enemy occupation of his kingdom by withdrawing his flotilla from Venetian waters. Confronted by a deteriorating situation, Manin sought to unify the disparate factions in a final, united stand. On August 13 the assembly once again proclaimed itself a republic and reconfirmed Manin as president with exceptional powers. Conditions deteriorated steadily. In March 1849, Austria resumed siege operation on land and sea. On April 1, Manin addressed a somber assembly which unanimously resolved "to resist at all costs."

Rapidly deteriorating circumstances compelled Manin to negotiate the terms of Venice's capitulation with Radetzky. The Austrian marshall rejected Manin's proposal of an autonomous Lombardo-Venetian kingdom under the Habsburg crown and demanded total surrender. As the blockade tightened, Manin used his dictatorial powers to concede the city on August 27, 1849, after ordering her evacuation. Radetzky demanded among the stipulations the immediate exile of forty of those most responsible for Venice's revolt. On August 28, Manin and his family left the lagoon. Within a few hours of their departure, Manin's wife died of cholera.

Settling in Paris, Manin became an articulate spokesperson for Italian unification, generating wide support among important sectors of French society. Impressed by Cavour's skill in transforming Piedmont into a showcase of liberal reform, Manin abandoned republicanism. With Giorgio Pallavincino Trivulzio, he founded the National Italian Society in July 1857, committed to territorial independence and unification of the entire peninsula under Piedmont's house of Savoy. Frail since adolescence, Manin died at the age of fifty-three on September 22, 1857.

Ronald S. Cunsolo


Bariera, Raffaello Daniele Manin Rome: Form'iggini, 1929.

Errera, Alberto La vita e i tempi di Daniele Manin Venice: Antone lli, 1872.

Gerlin, Giovanni Daniele Manin: cenni biografici Venice: Tipografia del Commercio, 1867

Ginsborg, Paul Daniele Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848-49 New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Levi, Alessandro La politica di Daniele Manin Milan: Dante Alighieri, 1933.

Martin, Henri Daniel Manin and Venice in 1848-49 2 vols.; London: Skeet, 1862.

Trevelyan, George M., Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848 London: Longmans, Green, 1923.

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