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Papal States

Papal States Pre-1849 For over a thousand years, the states of the church had been a unique religious enclave. The church provided the rationale for the existence of the state, to allow the pope freedom of action without owing loyalty to any secular prince. Revenue was not considered public wealth, but income intended for charity or as support for clerics engaged in ecclesiastical work. Churchmen always held the dominant governmental offices. They legislated, judged, educated, and policed the state in such a way as to ensure that the church would have a steady base from which to operate.

Except for this clerical dominance, the composition of the Papal States was similar to that of its neighbors. The population was nearly three million in 1846, of which only 15% lived in towns of a thousand or more. Rome had only 150,000 inhabitants, and Bologna (the second largest) less than half that many. About half the population were peasants, another 30% were skilled and unskilled workers in the towns. Nobles and other landowners accounted for another 10%, while the clergy, professional, and commercial classes were relatively small in number. Despite a steady growth in population, there was little active development in agriculture or trade. Most landowners, whether noble or clerical, preferred a steady income to increasing profits. The result was a social and economic foundation so static that religious pilgrims were still a major source of foreign capital.

Both the local administration and the court system were massively streamlined and modernized by Napoleon during the French occupation of Italy. Although many old institutions were restored after 1815, Cardinal Consalvi (Pius VII's secretary of state) attempted to retain some features of the French system, such as the opening of offices to laymen, and a strict accounting of finances. Consalvi believed strongly in papal independence, but also saw efficient and humane government as the best way to bring stability to Rome. Between 1816 and 1823, he promoted his moderate reforms with the support of the pope and the Austrian Chancellor Metternich. Though these measures were relatively modest they provoked intense opposition from the most conservative cardinals, known as zelanti (rigorists), who saw any change or modernization as evil. Ultimately, the zelanti clique managed to undermine all attempts at reform. After Pius VII's death, Consalvi was dismissed and his program undone. The zelanti elected two of the next three Popes, Leo XII and Gregory XVI, from their own ranks.

As elsewhere in Italy, local networks of revolutionaries known as "carbonari" formed to challenge the Roman regime. Most members of this society tended to be well educated and prosperous, but frustrated in many cases by lack of opportunity in a government dominated by clerics. Although their overall aims were vague and sometimes even contradictory, the carbonari maintained a continuing opposition to the government. At the same time, they maintained communication among themselves and discussed possible reforms. In general, they favored a formal constitution, political liberalism, and Italian unity, but not social reform.

Outside Rome, the greatest concentration of carbonari was in towns of the Romagna near the Adriatic, Bologna, Ravenna, Faenza, Rimini. During the revolt of 1831, the most significant leaders were moderate liberals from the carbonari and related sects. Some were old jacobins, but most were younger men like Terenzio Mamiani, Francesco Orioli, Carlo Pepoli and Pier Damiano Armandi. The initial revolt was executed so skillfully that the northern provinces were removed from papal control without the shedding of a single drop of blood. With the intervention of the Austrian army, however, the revolution was brought to a bloody end in short order.

Cardinal Bernetti, secretary of state for Pope Gregory XVI, took several strong measures to prevent future revolts. He stiffened the regular army by enlisting high quality Swiss troops who cared nothing for Italian politics. He permitted the formation of the Pontifical Volunteers, an armed militia drawn from the more conservative sectors of the population, and used as a paramilitary auxiliary to the regular police. And he allowed the use of special tribunals like military commissions to try suspected rebels outside of the regular court system. Stability of a sort returned to the Papal States, but only because of the overt use of force.

Several small revolts took place in the mid-1840s, though without any real chance of success. The Muratori revolt near Savigno in 1843 depended on simultaneous uprisings. Efficient action by the police and secret agents broke up most of the armed bands before they could even commit themselves. The only real result was a series of draconian trials, with many rebels condemned to death.

Another more important rising took place in Rimini in 1845. The military plan was just as hopeless as the previous one, but the Rimini event added one important element. The rebels publish ed the carefully worded "Manifesto of Rimini", largely the work of Luigi Carlo Farini. The manifesto demanded reform of legal codes and administration, opening offices to laymen, a free press, a civic guard and a general amnesty. These moderate proposals had great support both inside and outside the country.

The election, in 1846, of Giovanni Mastai-Ferretti as Pope Pius IX signaled the first serious change since 1823. Pius was certainly no liberal, as he first appeared to some, but sinc erely hoped to modernize his state. He formulated a modest reform program from Consalvi's plans, the Memorandum of 1831, and the Manifesto of Rimini.

The new pope granted a generous amnesty to about a thousand political prisoners and exiles, an action which won him instant popularity. Encouraged by the positive reaction, he enacted laws to relax press censorship in March 1847, to reform the cabinet in June, and to institute a civic guard in July 1847. Finally, although he had doubts about it, he granted a constitution of March 1848 which permitted an elected legislature. Pius never believed that he, as pope, could allow his subjects to actually rule the Papal States, though many of them hoped to create a parliamentary state.

Revolution in the Austrian empire, and the subsequent war with Piedmont, proved to be too much for the fragile government in Rome. Pius rapidly lost popularity when he issued the Allocution of April 29, refusing to support the Italian cause. Moderate elements in his government lost their mandate to govern, and their control of the cities evaporated. Political clubs and popular leaders like Pietro Sterbini had by this time become the effective government in the streets.

Pius attempted to keep his position by naming a strong man, Pellegrino Rossi, as prime minister. Rossi's murder on November 15 brought about the end of the Pope's trust in his subjects. He secretly fled from Rome later that month, and took refuge in the Kingdom of Naples. Despairing of a reconciliation, he called for help from France and other powers to restore his throne. The cabinet in Rome felt themselves abandoned and betrayed by the pope, and proceeded to take the initial steps which led to the formation of Mazzini's Roman Republic in February of 1849.
Leopold Glueckert


Domenico Demarco, Il tramonto dello Stato Pontificio Torino: Giulio Einaudi editore, 1949.

Elio Lodolini, "L'amministrazione periferica e locale nello Stato Pontificio dopo la Restaurazione (con note su Ferrara)". Ferrara Viva (1959) I/1, 5-32.

Elio Lodolini, "L'ordinamento giudiziario civile e penale nello Stato Pontificio (sec.XIX)". Ferrara Viva (1959) I/2, 43-73.

Giacomo Martina, S.J. Pio IX (1846-1850). Roma: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 1974.

Allan J. Reinerman, Austria and the Papacy in the Age of Metternich. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1979-1990. 2 vols.

Piero Zama, La Rivolta in Romagna fra il 1831 e il 1845. Faenza: Fratelli Lega, 1978.

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