(June 22, 1805 March 10, 1872) Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian patriot, philosopher and politician. Mazzini's efforts helped bring about the modern Italian state in place of the several separate states, many dominated by foreign powers, that existed until the nineteenth century. He also helped define the modern European movement for popular Democracy in a Republican State.
Born in Genoa, in 1830 Mazzini became a member of the Carbonari, a secret association with political purposes. His activity in revolutionary movements soon caused him to be proscribed. In 1831 he went to Marseille, where he organized a new political society called La giovine Italia (Young Italy). Its motto was God and the People, and its basic principle was the union of the several states and kingdoms of the peninsula into a single republic as the only true foundation of Italian liberty. He also founded several similar organizations aimed at the unification or liberation of other nations: Young Germany, Young Poland and finally Young Europe (Giovine Europa).
Mazzini believed that Italian unification could only be achieved through a popular uprising. Mazzini relentlessly agitated the Italian populace to revolt, and encouraged, initiated, and organized numerous small and large revolts from his exile in England. Although the odds may have been against his revolutionaries in any given situation, the trend of history was with Mazzini and so every challenge to local authority advanced the cause of Risorgimento. Mazzini continued to avow this purpose in his writings and pursued it through exile and adversity with inflexible constancy.
Mazzini's importance was more ideological than practical, but since that is Italy's identity as well, Mazzini is credited with fashioning the political idea that Italy was a country more than a patchwork of antiquated Roman city-states. It would be others who would make this idea a reality though. After the failure of the 1848 revolutions (during which Mazzini became the main leader of the short-lived Roman Republic), the Italian nationalists began to look to the king of Sardinia and his prime minister Count Cavour as the leaders of the unification movement. This meant separating national unification from the social and political reforms advocated by Mazzini.
Cavour was able to secure an alliance with France, leading to a series of wars between 1859 and 1861 that culminated in the formation of a unified kingdom of Italy. General Giuseppe Garibaldi, a former follower of Mazzini, also played a major role, but this kingdom was very far from the republic preached by Mazzini.
Mazzini never accepted a monarchical united Italy and continued to work for a democratic republic. In 1870 he was arrested and sent again into exile, even though he managed to return under a false name and lived in Pisa until his death in 1872. The political movement he led was called the Republican party and was active in Italy until the 1990s.
A bronze bust, unveiled in 1878, of Mazzini overlooks the Sheep Meadow in New York City's Central Park. The sculptor was Giovanni Turini (1841-1899), and it was a gift from Italian-Americans. Inscribed on one side of the bust's pedestal are the words "Pensiero Ed Azione," "thought and action," which was the name of the newspaper he founded in London 1858.