Camillo de Cavour

Associated Locations:

  • Turin, First French Empire – Birthplace

Associated Dates:

  • August 10, 1810 – Born

Camillo de Cavour is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

Cavour spent many frustrating years working for the unity of Italy. The capstone of all his efforts was his invitation to act as Italy’s first Prime Minister in 1852. When Cavour died in 1861, Italy was once again a single kingdom under a constitutional monarchy, save for Venetia and the city of Rome. Eventually these two also joined the new united land.

Cavour’s was the brain behind induced Napoleon III to enter Italy in 1859. This led to the eventual destruction of power in Austria. Cavour’s diplomacy kept Itlay free from foreign interference while Italy’s “errant knight,” Giuseppe Garibaldi, won repeated victories against superior numbers of the Austrians and, in one of the most brilliant military campaigns, swept across Italy, overthrowing old feudal kingdoms.

I am the son of liberty, to her I owe all that I am.

– Count Camillo de Cavour

Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.

Italian Statesman, Diplomat 1810-1861

Early Life

In 1810, the future architect and father of modern Italy, Count Camillo de Cavour, was born in the northern city of Turin in the region of Piedmont (known also as the Kingdom of Sardania). At this time Italy was the the country we know today. It was divided into eight regions much like the feudal states. A united Italy had not existed for hundreds of years. At the time of Cavour’s birth, Austria ruled most of Italy, except for the Piedmont region, which had been conquered by Napoleon. This new baby, who would become the first Prime Minister of Italy, was born a subject of France, the godson of Napoleon’s beautiful sister Pauline Bonaparte, who governed the region with her husband.

The second son of the Marquis Michael Benso de Cavour, Cavour spent his early life in a large home filled with extended family members. Cavour’s views of freedom and liberty were greatly influenced by these relatives, who were French-Huguenots.

As a young boy he was rather impetuous, possessing a strong and even “bossy” character, but he was entertaining and amiable. He often crossed his instructors because ideas seemed so out of touch with the thinking of that day; acttually his ideas ahead of the times. Because he was the second son, tradition slated him for the military, and at the early age of nine he was sent away to military school. Cavour remained in the military school until the age of sixteen.

Italy in 1810

Cavour was very attached to his close-knit family and the separation was hard on him, A letter written by Cavour just before his thirteenth birthday speaks of his longing to be at a family reunion.

Dear Mama: What it has cost me to be the one absent from a complete reunion of the family you can imagine. I am beginning to feel the throns with which the path of life is sown; … I shall be able to embrace my aunt next month at Turin; it is true that the shortness of time I passes with her only made me fell the more pleasure of her conversation. Goodbye, dearest Mama.1

In the summer of 1823, Cavour with some other youths at his school were sent to a hostel high in the mountains. Of the experience Cavour wrote to his mother. In the letter he referred to the strength of her love: “Dearest Mama: It needed all your maternal love to brave the heat of the sun and climb up here. We shall then be separated for a month.” He then writes a line that so amply describes his personality: “You may be sure, dear Mama, that I am happy, specially when I am not ordered to be so. Please give my love to father, and believe in me always. Your affectionate son.”2

Cavour was especifically close to his paternal grandmother. She remained by his side when other family members had difficulties with him. By the time he was twenty-eight years of age, because of his outspoken political opinions, his family, particularly his father–was somewhat estranged from him, and they made some rather harsh remarks about the direction he was heading. He writes to his grandmother, whom he called Marina:

To you, oh my dear Marina, who bear me such love, I turn and pray you to defend me against the hateful and undeserved charge brought against me–that I am hard-hearted and that all feelings of tenderness are extinguished within me. I can be accused of much, perhaps even of being inconsiderate and too much of a Liberal, but never of hardness of heart. We understand each other marvelously, toy and I, for you were always a little bit of a Jacobian.3[The Jacobians were a political club formed after the French Revolution. The original object of this group was to work for the establishment of a constitution that would support the rights of man.]

There were two other members of the family who seemed to wield influence over the political views of young Cavour. One was his uncle, Count de Sellon, who lived in Geneva, and the othera cousin, Auguste de la Rive, a professor whose relatives were Protestants. Sellon was a pacifist. Cavour agreed with many of his uncle’s pacifist ideas, particularly those that “the morality of the gospels ought to aooly in politics as well as in private behavior.”4It was his constant exchange with these relatives, some radical, some conservative, which counted for much of his moral and intellectual development. Their patriotic thinking set him on his future path.

In 1831, the Napoleonic government in Piedmont was defeated. The old royalty was restored to the little kingdom, and in the stroke of a pen the king ussued an edict that swept away the progress and political structure that had been advance under the Napoleonic government for twenty years.

This move particularly affected the educational system and the business community. Overnight all progress was gone. Old officials of the royalty were found and treturned to their offices. Education for many we eliminated. These events placed Piedmont in the most backward position of all the Italian states. Cavour’s observation of these events greatly influence the young man’s opinion of an absolute monarchy.

A Voracious Reader

Cavour, even at a young age, was a voracious reader, and from his reading he began to see enlightenment that was taking place in other countries, particularly England. He began the task of mastering the English language, and eventually became fluent, speaking wtih eloquence. This ability allowed him to follow the political events in England. However, he was often punished for possession of “forbidden books,” and was placed under house arrest for ten days.

He was fond of mathematics, and he felt that it helped him form a habit of precise thinking. In later life he would often try to reduce political and moral problems to imaginary graphs on which he would try to plot the relevant factors. He felt this exercise helped him draw his conclusions.

As gifted as Cavour was in math, he felt that there was yet a more important area of study to be pursued. One day in his math class the professor complimented Cavour on his great mathematical ability and advise him to become a great mathematician, to which Cavour replied: “This is no longer the time for mathematics; it is necessary to study political economy; the world progresses. I hope to see the day when our country is governed by a constitution, and who knows but I may be a minister in it.”5

As a youth Cavour knew his life’s mission and prepared in earnest to fulfill it. He later wrote the following patriotic words: “No, no; it is not by fleeing from ones native land because she is unhappy that one can reach a glorious end… Happy or unhappy, my country shall have all my life.”6


Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1838

In his fourth year of military school he was appointed as a page to the royal prince, a much coveted position. But the costume was offensive to Cavour, and he didn’t hesitate to say so in public. Because of his outspoken nature, by the end of the year Cavour had lost the patronage of Prince Charles Albert. Speaking of his actions years later Cavour reflected that he had been imprudent and ungrateful.

His parents were keenly disappointed and they had grave concern about the future of their son. When he was sixteen and a sub-lieutenant in the corp of engineers, he was sent to the remote mountain borders to supervise the construction of forticiations. Here he was extremely bored and so read volumes of history and took coppious notes.

From Gibbonhe copied chapters on religion. He read Hume and Wycliffe and the British Constitution. Cavour was a great admirer of the works of Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith. One of his favorite writers was Alexis de Tocqueville, author of ‘’Democracy in America’’. He felt this books was the most remarkable book of modern times and that it showed the direction the world was about to take: “a book full of warning but also hope.”7

He often read and meditated on the Bible during this time as well. His other readings included Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and the novels of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He thought Byron the supreme poet of the nineteenth century.

Learning Agriculture

He finally convinced his father to let him out of the military, and he returned to oversee one of the family estates at Leri. Here, although he had absolutly no knowledge of agriculture, he threw himself into rising early to work in the fields with the peasants. He studies all there was on agriculture reform. He began working in the surrounding communities to establish a rail road, factories, mills, and even a line of steamers. His energy seemed boundless. At twenty-two he was appointed mayor. Even so, because of his advanced ideas, he was still watched and spied on by the Royalist Government, as one who might be a revolutionary.

For this same reason he was often denied travel permits. However, when he was able to obtain one he would travel to Grance or England, establishing contact with different statesmen. It was about this time that Cavour and his frieds formed the Society of Agriculture and established a newspaper. The society did not deal strictly with agriculture, but discussed the promoted a whole realm of economic and political reform. The newspaper, Risorgimento, with Cavour as editor, began to print new and liberal ideas. During this time, news came that England was attempting to pass a famous reform bill. Cavour and his friends anxiously awaited for the final outcome of the English reform bill. Cavour felt that when it passed, it would spawn a wave of freedom for Italy.

Helping Bring Freedom

In 1848, Cavour and his friends of the agricultural society and leading men of Turin held a meeting to consider the steps that might be taken to petition the king for changes that would permit progress. After a lengthy discussion Cavour stood up and with great vehemence exclaimed: “Why should we as in a roundabout way of r concessions which end in little or nothing? I propose that we should ask for a Constitution.”8

It was agreed, and Cavour himself made the presentation to the King reassuring him that the constitution was to be a constitutional monarchy. Upon receiving petitions from the city of Turn, Charles Albert on 7 February 1848 granted the first constitution in modern Italy. Today this date is celebrated throughout Italy as the date leading to her eventual independence, unity, and freedom.

Cavour was elected to the newly established chamber. His talents and abilities led to his being selected as the leader of this assembly. One of his first priorities was to obtain a treaty between Piedmont and the two contries he felt could help Italy most, France and England. The object of the treaty in Cavour’s mind was twofold: one, it would cause Piedmont to be recognized as a European power, an entity in its own right; and two, Austria would be hesitant to come to war against a government that had a treaty with the great nations of France and England.

The consitiutional groundwork laid in Piedmont became the foundation for the eventual unification of all Italy. In this work, Cavour met disappointment on all sides. On one hand he had to contend with republicans who wanted no monarchy. But Cavour had a keen sense of the times and knew that Italy was not ready to do away with a royal family. On the other hand, the democrats opposed every action Cavour took, no matter what he tried.

One of Cavour’s major moves was to induce Napoleon III to help expel Austrians from Italian soil. Through Cavours supreme diplomacy, Napoleon III agreed. Meeting in battle, and the French and Piedmont armies begans to push the Austrians out of Italy, and for the first time there was a glimmer hope that Italy would gain her freedom. Then the Emperor or Austria met with Napoleon III, and a treaty was signed without the knowledge of Cavour or his king, then Victor Emmanuel II. This treaty left the Austrians still in control. It was almost more than Cavour could take and in his anger he resigned. For the first time he was tempted to take up arms as a revolutionist, something he had always been against.

His king, however, had heart of Cavour’s pleadings; he would not sign the treaty, except as it pertained to Piedmont. Even Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister of England, spoke out in defense of Piedmont and against the Treaty of Villafranca.

Gathering his courage Cavour returned to his public life and in 1851 declared: “Piedmont, gathering to itself all the living forces of Italy, [wil] be soon in a position to lead out mother coutry to the destinies to which she is called.”9

This was the speech that seemed to turn darkness into light. It gave a new rallying cry to all those parties hop for independence and unification. word was sent from Lord Palmerston, encouraging the constitutional experiment in Piedmont, for by so doing he said, the Italian despots were doomed.

Cavour made secret contact with Garibaldi, who, against surmountable odds and greatly superior numbers, drove Austria from the Italian borders and freed the last of the Bourbons from Control. Cavour, like a master puppeteer, kept the strength of the nation working for the same goal. His diplomacy abroad kept Garibaldi free of international intervention. At the last all of Italy, except Rome and one other providence, was united. A plebecite was held and the national assembly met. Cavour was appointed first Prime Minister of the new united Italy. The new government met in Turin.

Due to a number if crises Cavour was invited to become the Prime Minister, a position he held with only two short interruptions until his death. Cavour immediately began to instigate internal reform. One of his first acts was to establish free trade. He made agricultural reform based his education gained during his years at Leri. He also felt it important to build up the military, but calling for additional taxes as he needed to do so gave fuel to his enemies. When asked to establish a lottery, he replied that lotteries were “a tax on imbeciles.”10

Cavour knew that in order to completely unite the people, the true captiol of Italy must be Rome. Garibaldi wanted to storm the city, but Cavour set upon another course of action–diplomacy. He proposed that the Pope retain his ruling authority over Vatican City and allow the remainder of Rome to become a part of Italy. He summed up his veiws in a formuila called “a free church in a free state.” Cavour did not live to see his goal accomplished. The strain of all he had been doing destroyed his health.

When it was known that the doctors could do no more for him, the family called for the Friar Giacomo to offer the last rites. Even though Cavour had been excommunicated in one of the Pope’s mass excommunications, the good Friar came at one. When the throngs outside Cavour’s home heard the tinkling of the bell signaling his death, a murmur of uncontrolled grief was heard in the crowd, for their leading patriot was about to leave them. Cavour from his bed addressed Giacomo: “The time for departure is come”; he then kissed the King’s hand in a show of deep devotion. His last words were “The thing [the independence of Italy] is going on; be certain that nowthe thing is going on.” And as he gradually sank he was periodically heard to utter, “Italy–Rome–Venice.” Then as if he was being greeted on the other side, his last word was spoken in the form of a salutation, he called out the name: “Napoleon!”11

Cavour, the boy who became the father of his country, left a legacy few can follow, but all can be grateful for.

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.12

  1. Whyte, A. J. The Early Life and Letters of Cavour. Conn: Greenwood Press. Reprint  1925. 1976, p. 17.
  2. Ibid., p. 18.
  3. Ibid., p. 4.
  4. Smith, Denise Mack. Cavour. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1915, p. 5.
  5. Whyte, p. 13.
  6. Orsi pietro. Cavour and the Making of Modern Italy. New York & London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 914, p. 71.
  7. Smith, p. 9
  8. Duyckinck, p. 70.
  9. Encylopedia Britannica, 11th ed.. 1910, 5:583.
  10. Pro & Con: Should We Have State-Run Lotteries?” Readers Digest, August 1963, p. 105.
  11. Duyckinck, p. 70.
  12. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.
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