In the early 19th century, many political ideologies were taking hold in Europe. The most successful was nationalism, the desire among people of similar language, customs and ethnicity to become an independent nation rather than be governed by a foreign empire. In Italy, a young intellectual named Giuseppe Mazzini was moved by the sight of defeated nationalist revolutionaries emigrating Italy by way of the Genoa docks. Mazzini soon began his life-long political battle to unify Italy's city-states and liberate Italy from foreign and papal rule. His ideological followers were known as La Giovine Italia, or Young Italy, an organization that at one time counted 60,000 members.

The Carbonari

Rule of the early 19th century Italian city-states was divided among the Austrian Empire, France, the papacy and Italian royalty. Mazzini was particularly offended by a comment attributed to the Austrian foreign minister Klemens Metternich, who said the term "Italy" was simply a "geographical expression." Mazzini believed there were unifying aspects among all Italians and it was the responsibility of young Italians to establish an Italian nation. Mazzini joined a revolutionary secret society, the Carbonari, which already had staged several unsuccessful revolts. Mazzini was arrested for allegedly recruiting another member. While in prison, Mazzini vowed to devote his life to the unification of Italy and the establishment of a republic.

Founding of Young Italy

Mazzini concluded the Carbonari was not unified in thought and did not have a central set of goals for unifying Italy. While in exile in Marseilles, France in 1831, Mazzini established Young Italy, a secret society whose ideologies he described as republican, because it sought freedom and equality for all Italians, and unitarian, because it supported an Italy united by religion, social custom, and civic thought. Mazzini emphasized the tenets of progress, duty and sacrifice. He also reminded the members of Young Italy that morality and virtuosity in their actions were essential to gain the support and trust of others.

Young Europe, Young Switzerland

Mazzini's unpopularity in France forced him to seek exile in Switzerland. The growth of Young Italy continued, however, and branches appeared in several Italian cities from which Mazzini hoped to launch coordinated uprisings. The Austrian government declared membership in Young Italy an act of treason punishable by death, but this did not discourage intellectuals in Europe from prescribing to Mazzini's ideologies. A movement known as Young Europe formed in 1834 based on many of Mazzini's principles. A Young Switzerland followed, causing Mazzini to be exiled again, this time to London.

Decline of Young Italy

Several revolutions on the Italian peninsula in 1848 culminated in the assassination of the papal minister in Rome, the departure of the Pope from that city and the establishment of the Roman Republic in the former Papal States. Mazzini was in Rome to help draw up the Constitution of the Roman Republic but two days later the city was recaptured by French armies supporting the Pope. Mazzini again retreated into exile. He continued to plan revolutions for Italy, but Italian nationalists, seeing the repeated failures of Young Italy to establish a republic, transferred their support to the Piedmont-Sardinia monarchy. In 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was established under Piedmont-Sardinia king Victor Emmanuel, uniting all of Italy except Venetia and Rome.