"Garibaldi the Liberator”

July 7, 1860

artist unknown

"Garibaldi the Liberator”

Analogies, Ancient Mythology; Wars, Italian War for Independence (1859-1861); Women, Symbolic;

Garibaldi, Giuseppe;


No caption

This Harper's Weekly cartoon glorifies Giuseppe Garibaldi, the military leader of the Italian independence and unification movement, as a liberator of the Italian people from their oppressive rulers.  He appears as Perseus, the mythical Greek hero who rescued Princess Andromeda (here, Sicily) from a sea monster (here, "Bomba," King Ferdinand II of Sicily). 

Giuseppe Garibaldi was born into an Italian family in Nice, France.  He worked for a decade as a sailor before joining the navy of the Italian kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1833.  Influenced by the ideas of Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and French philosopher Count Saint-Simon, Garibaldi participated in the failed 1834 plot to replace the Piedmont-Sardinia kingdom with a republic.  After fleeing to France, he was condemned to death in absentia, so he exiled himself to South America (1836-1848).  In the late 1830s, he served as a navy captain for the province of Rio Grande do Sul, which unsuccessfully revolted against Brazilian rule.  In the 1840s, his exploits with the Uruguayan navy in a civil war pitting the "whites" against the "reds" (his side) gained him acclaim in Europe. 

In 1848, Garibaldi returned to Italy to lead a 60-member Italian Legion in the fight for Italian independence (called "Risorgimento," meaning "resurrection") against the Austrian Empire.  After fighting gallantly for several months, Garibaldi had to retreat to Switzerland, from where he returned to Nice.  In 1849, he moved to Rome, where he was elected to the assembly and proposed the unification of the various Italian states into one republic.  Garibaldi fought bravely but in vain against French troops, who restored the Pope's authority over the Papal States.  He had become the "hero of two worlds," but was again forced to flee to San Marino (the tiny Italian republic) to Morocco to Staten Island, New York, and finally to Peru.

In 1854, Count Cavour, the prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, allowed him to return home.  Two years later, Garibaldi unsuccessfully petitioned for the release of political prisoners held by the Bourbon king of Naples.  In 1858, Cavour commissioned him a major general in the Piedmont-Sardinia army and assigned him to ready an army of volunteers from other Italian states for war against Austria.  In 1859, Garibaldi's troops captured Varese and Como in the northern Italian region of Lombardy (adjacent to Piedmont), which its Austrian rulers ceded to Piedmont-Sardinia at the war's end.  Garibaldi next gained the secret approval of the king of Piedmont-Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel II, for an invasion of the Papal States, but the plan was tabled.

On May 6, 1860, two months before this cartoon appeared, Garibaldi embarked on the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (comprising Sicily, Naples, and much of southern Italy) from its French Bourbon rulers.  Neither Victor Emmanuel nor Cavour officially supported him, but they agreed to back him if he demonstrated success on the battlefield.  Garibaldi's invasion of Sicily sparked a popular revolution against the oppressive government of the island, whose people looked upon him as a liberator.  

Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator, in the name of Victor Emmanuel, and his impressive capture of Palermo convinced Cavour to aid him militarily.  After subduing the rest of Sicily, he crossed to the mainland and made his way northward to Naples.  On September 7, 1860, Garibaldi triumphantly entered Naples, and he and his 30,000 men quickly secured their conquest of the region by defeating the French at the major battle of Volturno River, north of Naples.  Following popular plebiscites, Garibaldi transferred authority over southern Italy to King Victor Emmanuel.

The sea serpent in the cartoon is Ferdinand II, the former ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who had degenerated over the years from a liberal monarch to an authoritarian.  In 1848, a liberal revolt in Naples compelled him to adopt a constitution, but he soon ignored the document and resumed his harsh ways.  He reestablished control over Sicily through heavy bombardments, which earned him the nickname of "King Bomba."  His death in May 1859 helped prepare the way for Garibaldi's conquest and the subsequent incorporation of Sicily and Naples into a united Italy.

Garibaldi captured the attention of the world with his military adventures in Italy, becoming a popular hero both in Italy and abroad among those who favored constitutional government.  President Lincoln offered him a commission as a Union general during the American Civil War, which the Italian patriot declined.  Victor Emmanuel, Cavour, and other Italian leaders, however, were wary of Garibaldi's popularity as well as his anticlerical and republican views. After the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861, with Victor Emmanuel as its monarch, Garibaldi often found himself in the opposition, criticizing the government's administration of the provinces he had captured and of its treatment of the war's veterans.

In 1862, Victor Emmanuel recruited Garibaldi to drive the Austrians from the Balkans; instead, Garibaldi led the volunteer army in an attack on the Papal States, whose authority was ensured by French troops.  Not wanting to antagonize France, the Italian government dispatched Italian regulars to halt Garibaldi's men.  The rebel leader was wounded and captured, but soon released after the king's role in the scheme became public.  

In 1866, Italy again called Garibaldi into service during the Austro-Prussian War (Seven Weeks' War) during which Italy allied with the victorious Prussians. The next year, he again unsuccessfully attacked the Papal States, was captured and released.  The French finally withdrew from the Papal States in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, and Rome voted to become the capital of a united Italy.  During the war, Garibaldi fought with French republicans against the Prussians, and was later elected to the French National Assembly, although he lived most of his later years as an ailing recluse.  He died June 2, 1882, at his home in Caprera, Italy.

Robert C. Kennedy

"Garibaldi the Liberator”
March 4, 2024

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