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5. Daniele Manin proclaiming the Venetian Republic

Daniel Manin proclaiming the Venetian Republic (detail) Click image to enlarge
Source: Daniel Manin proclaiming the Venetian Republic (detail), etching, 19th Cent., Museum of the Risorgimento, Venice.

Piedmont declares war on Austria

Finally, on 23rd March, King Carlo Alberto decided to intervene in Lombardy and Veneto with a declaration of war on Austria and the First Italian War of Independence began. Three days later Piedmontese troops arrived in Milan. At this point almost all the rulers of the Italian states, the Pope among them, driven either by their conscience or by political calculation opted to send their military forces to help the army of Savoy. Other bodies of volunteers were formed during these days and set off from Milan and other cities of the Po plain to join up with the regular Sardinian army. The atmosphere was favourable towards the spirit of unification and even Mazzini, who arrived in Milan on 7th April, seemed to renounce his republican project in order to co-operate with Carlo Alberto’s initiative in the name of achieving Italian independence. His position was not shared by democratic political leaders such as Cattaneo and Ferrari who were intransigently opposed to any collaboration with the hereditary rulers and plans for unification under a monarchy,


  1. What was the situation in which the proclamation of the new republican government took place?
  2. What does the posture with which Manin addresses the crowd suggest?
  3. What political symbols appear in the picture?
  4. To which social classes do the people acclaiming Manin belong?
  5. Why is Venice considered the city which “never lost faith in the fatherland”?

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Description and Analysis

Venice was the first major city in the territories of the Hapsburg Empire to rebel: on 17th March a huge patriotic demonstration forced the Governor, Palffy, to free several patriots imprisoned in the preceding January, among whom two figures of great cultural and political importance stood out, Daniele Manin and Niccolo’ Tommaseo. A lawyer and brilliant orator, descendent of a Veronese family of Jewish origin (his paternal grandfather, Samuele Medina, on his conversion to Catholicism had adopted the name of his godfather, the patrician and future Doge Ludovico Manin), Daniele became, first, head of the provisional Venetian government, then “triumvir” and, finally, “dictator” of the Republic when unlimited powers were conferred on him to organize total resistance against the Austrians. The second-named, of Dalmatian origins, had become famous for his refined linguistic gifts and later as a writer and moving spirit of political and literary circles in Venice. There was no lack of disputes and ill-feeling between the two, especially when, in the name of the civic harmony judged necessary for the defence of the city, Manin had three Mazzini supporters, and then further radical, democratic exponents, expelled from Venice on the accusation of stirring up hatred and supporting positions which were too critical of the “dictatorship”. As soon as they were freed, Manin and Tommaseo led the almost bloodless, uprising of 22nd March which led to the liberation of the city and to the proclamation of the Republic entrusted to their leadership: the insurrection combined “national”, pro-Italian aspirations but also memories of and nostalgia for the ancient republican tradition of the city, whose symbol, the Lion of St. Mark, was flown in the Piazza along with the tricolour. Manin, standing on a table of a café that same afternoon addressed the Venetians who crowded St. Mark’s Square: “We are free” he said “and we can be doubly proud at being so, because we have achieved this without having spilled a drop of blood, neither our own nor our brothers’, because I consider all men to be just that. But it is not enough to have defeated the old regime: we have to create for ourselves a new one, and the most suitable seems to be a republic, which will recall past glories, improved by the freedoms of the present day. With this we do not already intend to cut ourselves off from our brother Italians but rather we will create one of those centres of power which must serve in the successive fusion of Italy into one. Therefore, Long Live the Republic! Long Live Saint Mark!” In fact, the speech contained one, small falsehood, because the blood of one man, at least, had been spilled; that morning, the workers in the Arsenal had, in fact, assassinated their director, Giovanni Marinovich. Manin, warned of the disorder, had gone to the Arsenal accompanied by the civil guard and occupied it. Shortly afterwards the army arrived but the soldiers, Italians, had mutinied against their Austrian officers and had not opened fire. The only course now open to the representatives of the government of Vienna was to negotiate surrender with the city authorities. (Questions 1-2-3).

During his sixteen months in power, Manin pursued a double political objective: internally, the step-by-step construction of a republican democracy founded on civil equality, political freedom and universal suffrage; externally, independence and a federal Italian union via a constituent assembly which would meet in Rome. For this reason, when it came to dealing with Carlo Alberto’s proposal of annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia, Manin put off the decision and played for time until, on 3rd July, by which time the Austrians had retaken the majority of the cities they had lost, he decided to accept union with the Savoy kingdom. This led to his withdrawal from the political scene for at least a month until, after the armistice between Piedmont and the Empire, the Venetians rose in rebellion again, fearing that the city would be handed over again to the Austrians. In pursuing this firmly republican policy, Manin enjoyed the faithful support, not only of the “men of business” who made up the government, but also of the members of the professions, intellectuals and students. He became a genuine icon of the working class; the craftsmen, boats-men and the labourers of Venice regarded him, also because of his surname, as the last Doge and a father figure, treating him with genuine veneration which was repaid with a familiarity in speech in the dialect and, in concrete terms, in provisions such as the control of prices of food-stuffs or the recruitment of the unemployed for the work of reinforcing of the city’s defences. This explains the survival of the Republic of Saint Mark for a considerable time and the strong “popular” participation in the republican experience, even when the city government, during the siege, needed money to buy provisions and asked the citizenry to bring to the mint, within forty eight hours, all the gold and silver in their possession. In support of Venice, the only city to resist after the Piedmontese defeat in the first phase of the war, a loan of ten million was indeed raised throughout the whole of Italy, guaranteed by a mortgage on the Palazzo Ducale. On 13th August Manin established a triumvirate which, in December, held an election by universal male suffrage for the establishment of a permanent assembly of representatives of the state of Venice which replaced that elected in June 1848 to decide on union with Piedmont and the other liberated territories. The election saw a considerable turn out of electors and produced a majority in favour of Manin who, on 17th March 1849, formed a new government, with himself as foreign secretary. After the final defeat of Piedmont in the second phase of the First War of Independence, the commander of the Austrian army in Veneto invited Manin to come to an agreement for the surrender of the city. From that point until the following August, the city held out, defended with great tenacity by a great number of volunteers who arrived from various parts of Italy, in addition to a considerable body of Venetians from the mainland, who avoided conscription by the Austrian army. The signing of an alliance with the revolutionary government in Hungary was to no avail: the hope had been that the Hungarians could defeat the Austrians and even come to the rescue of the besieged Venice. The city was by this time surrounded, with no remaining food supplies and also victim of the spread of a cholera epidemic. On 22nd August delegates from the Venetian government signed the capitulation, which was ratified two days later by the Government itself. Manin and other leaders of the Venetian government were given the chance to leave Venice on board a French ship, which carried them into exile as the Austrians entered the city. Manin left Venice for good on 28 August 1849 and headed for Paris, where he was given a hero’s welcome by many French intellectuals (Victor Hugo among them) and where, like other Italian patriots, he would have the opportunity to dedicate himself practically to the national cause. Venice was the last part of Italy to capitulate and with its demise died all of the ideals which had fed the great Italian uprising during the two years of revolution: for the national cause and for the final acquisition of constitutional rights, which only the Piedmont government had honoured, the balance appeared to be negative. (Question 4).

Other Information

“We have made mistakes, why deny it, since our present troubles originate from these and there is unequivocal proof of it? But the behaviour of Venice compensates us for many a humiliation and, among many bitter thoughts, we remember that Venice’s glory has given us some comfort. Europe, Italy even, seems to have forgotten Venice and no longer concerns itself with this city lost among the waters. It was considered incapable of both reconquering and holding onto its freedom. Today Venice solemnly proves these unjust accusations wrong. Europe has once more given her its respect and Italian honour has found its last bastion there. The day, we hope, will come when we will be able to repay this in full. On that day Italy will have won her independence and Venice will be celebrated, among all the free cities of Italy, as the one which never lost faith in the fatherland and never hesitated to sacrifice herself for the sacred cause of our redemption.” (Cristina Trivulzio di Belgioioso, “Leaders and Peoples. 1848 in Venice”, ed. Spartaco, 2005)

The essay by Piero Brunello on the Venetian revolution of 1848-49 is available on the University of Venice website http://www.unive.it/media/allegatieventi/stu_storici/1848_E_D.pdf

The essay by P. Ginsborg dated 1974 on “Daniele Manin and the Venetian revolution of 1848-49 is available in English (“Peasants and revolutionaries in Venice and Veneto-1848) in http://www.jstor.org/stable/2638387