Francesco Crispi

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Francesco Crispi (October 4 1819 - August 12 1901) was a 19th century Italian politician. He was instrumental in the formation of the united country and was its Premier from 1887 until 1891 and again from 1893 until 1896.



Crispi was born in Ribera, Sicily and baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. He assumed an active role in the Sicilian uprising against the rule of Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies at Palermo in 1848. The uprising ended in failure and the government was restored in May 1849. Unlike many, Crispi was not granted amnesty and was forced to flee the country. He lived next in Piedmont where he worked as a journalist. He was implicated in the Mazzini conspiracy at Milan in 1853 and was expelled from Piedmont. He took refuge first on Malta, then in Paris and, even he had not done so before, met up with Giuseppe Mazzini in London.

In 1860 he, alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi, led the "expedition of the thousand" which disembarked on Sicily on 11 May 1860. On the 13th, Crispi drew up the Proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. After the fall of Palermo, Crispi was appointed minister of the interior and of finance in the Sicilian provisional government, but was shortly afterwards obliged to resign on account of the struggle between Garibaldi and the emissaries of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour on the question of timing of the annexation of Sicily by Italy.

Appointed secretary to Garibaldi, Crispi secured the resignation of Agostino Depretis, whom Garibaldi had appointed pro-dictator, and would have continued his fierce opposition to Cavour at Naples, where he had been placed by Garibaldi in the foreign office, had not the advent of the Italian regular troops and the annexation of the Two Sicilies to Italy brought about Garibaldi's withdrawal to Caprera and Crispi's own resignation.

Parliament and government

Entering parliament in 1861 as deputy of the extreme Left for the Castelvetrano commune, Crispi acquired the reputation of being the most aggressive and most impetuous member of the republican party. In 1864, however, he announced he was a monarchist, in the famous phrase afterwards repeated in his letter to Mazzini:

The monarchy unites us; the republic would divide us.

In 1866 he refused to enter Baron Bettino Ricasoli's cabinet; in 1867 he worked to impede the Garibaldian invasion of the papal states, foreseeing the French occupation of Rome and the disaster of Mentana. By methods of the same character as those subsequently employed against himself by Felice Cavallotti, he carried on the violent agitation known as the Lobbia affair, in which sundry conservative deputies were, on insufficient grounds, accused of corruption. On the outbreak of the Franco-German War he worked energetically to impede the projected alliance with France, and to drive the Giovanni Lanza cabinet to Rome. The death of Urbano Rattazzi in 1873 induced Crispi's friends to put forward his candidature to the leadership of the Left; but Crispi, anxious to reassure the crown, secured the election of Depretis.

In 1876 he was elected President of the Chamber. During the autumn of 1877 he went to London, Paris and Berlin on a confidential mission, establishing cordial personal relationships with British Prime Minister William Gladstone and Foreign Minister Lord Granville and other English statesmen, and with Otto von Bismarck, by then Chancellor of the German Empire.

In December 1877 he replaced Giovanni Nicotera as minister of the interior in Depretis's cabinet. Although his short term of office lasted just 70 days, they were instrumental in establishing a unitary monarchy. On January 9, 1878, the death of Victor Emmanuel and the accession of King Humbert enabled Crispi to secure the formal establishment of a unitary monarchy, the new monarch taking the title of Humbert I of Italy instead of Humbert IV of Savoy. On the 9 February, 1879, the death of Pope Pius IX necessitated a conclave, the first to be held after the unification of Italy. Crispi, helped by Mancini and Cardinal Pecci (afterwards Leo XIII), persuaded the Sacred College to hold the conclave in Rome, establishing the legitimacy of the capital.

Bigamy scandal

The statesmanlike qualities displayed on this occasion were insufficient to avert the storm of indignation of Crispi's opponents in connection with a charge of bigamy. When he remarried, a woman he had married in 1853 was still living. But a court ruled that Crispi's 1853 marriage on Malta was invalid because it was contracted while a woman he had married still earlier was still living. By the time of his third marriage, his first wife had died and his marriage to his second wife was legally invalid. Therefore his marriage to his third wife was ruled valid and not bigamous. He was nevertheless compelled to resign office.

For nine years Crispi remained politically under a cloud, but in 1887 returned to office as minister of the interior in the Depretis cabinet. Following Depretis's death on July 29, 1887 Crispi assumed the premiership of his country.

First term

One of his first acts as premier was a visit to Bismarck, whom he desired to consult upon the working of the Triple Alliance. Basing his foreign policy upon the alliance, as supplemented by the naval entente with Great Britain negotiated by his predecessor, Count Robilant, Crispi assumed a resolute attitude towards France, breaking off the prolonged and unfruitful negotiations for a new Franco-Italian commercial treaty, and refusing the French invitation to organize an Italian section at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. At home Crispi secured the adoption of the Sanitary and Commercial Codes, and reformed the administration of justice. Forsaken by his Radical friends, Crispi governed with the help of the right until he was overthrown by Giovanni Giolitte in 1891.

Return to power and second term

In December 1893 the impotence of the Giolitti cabinet to restore public order, then menaced by disturbances in Sicily and in Lunigiana, gave rise to a general demand that Crispi should return to power. Upon resuming office he vigorously suppressed the disorders, and steadily supported the energetic remedies adopted by Barone Sidney Sonnino, minister of finance, to save Italian credit, which had been severely shaken the financial crisis of 1892-1893.

Crispi's uncompromising suppression of disorder, and his refusal to abandon either the Triple Alliance or the Eritrean colony, or to forsake his colleague Giorgio Sidney Sonnino, caused a breach between him and the radical leader Felice Cavallotti. Cavallotti then began against him a pitiless campaign of defamation. An unsuccessful attempt upon Crispi's life by the anarchist Lega brought a momentary truce, but Cavallotti's attacks were soon renewed more fiercely than ever. They produced so little effect that the general election of 1895 gave Crispi a huge majority, but, a year later, the humiliating defeat of the Italian army at Adowa in Abyssinia brought about his resignation. The ensuing Antonio di Rudini cabinet lent itself to Cavallotti's campaign, and at the end of 1897 the judicial authorities applied to the chamber for permission to prosecute Crispi for embezzlement. A parliamentary commission, appointed to inquire into the charges against him, discovered only that Crispi, on assuming office in 1893, had found the secret service coffers empty, and had borrowed money from a state bank to fund it, repaying it with the monthly instalments granted in regular course by the treasury. The commission, considering this proceeding irregular, proposed, and the chamber adopted, a vote of censure, but refused to authorize a prosecution. Crispi resigned his seat in parliament, but was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in April 1898 by his Palermo constituents. For some time he took little part in active politics, chiefly on account of his growing blindness. A successful operation for cataract restored his eyesight in June 1900, and notwithstanding his 81 years he resumed to some extent his former political activity. Soon afterwards, however, his health began to give way permanently, and he died at Naples on 12 August 1901.


Crispi was a colourful and intensely patriotic character. Although he began life as a revolutionary and democratic figure, his premiership was authoritarian and he showed disdain for Italian liberals. This has prompted some historians, such as Christopher Duggan, to see Crispi as a pre-cursor to Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism.

See also


  • Francesco Crispi, 1818-1901 : From Nation to Nationalism, Christopher Duggan, ISBN 0198206119

Preceded by:
Agostino Depretis III
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by:
Antonio Starabba, Marchese di Rudiný I
Preceded by:
Giovanni Giolitti I
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by:
Antonio Starabba, Marchese di Rudiný II

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it:Francesco Crispi

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