Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour

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Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour, Isolabella and Leri (10 August 1810 – 6 June 1861), generally known as Cavour, was an Italian statesman and a leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification. He was one of the leaders of the Historical Right, and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont–Sardinia, a position he maintained (except for a six-month resignation) throughout the Second Italian War of Independence and Giuseppe Garibaldi's campaigns to unite Italy. After the declaration of a united Kingdom of Italy, Cavour took office as the first Prime Minister of Italy; he died after only three months in office, and thus did not live to see Venetia or Rome added to the new Italian nation.


  • [We desire] to imbue all sections of society, both civil and religious, with the ideal of liberty. We desire economic liberty, we desire administrative liberty, we desire full and absolute liberty of conscience. We desire all the political liberties that are compatible with the maintenance of public order. And therefore, as a necessary consequence of this order of things, we deem it essential...that the principle of liberty should be applied to the relations between Church and State.
    • Arturo Carlo Jemolo, Church and State in Italy, 1850–1950 (1960), pp. 23–24
  • Tell that good friend of ours that our trade laws are the most liberal of the continent; that for ten years we have been practising the maxims that he exhorts us to adopt; tell him that he preaches to the converted.
    • Letter to Marquis d'Azeglio after William Ewart Gladstone expounded his economic and political ideals in a letter to d'Azeglio (9 December 1860), La Politique du Comte Camille de Cavour de 1852 à 1861, p. 392, quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), p. 17

Quotes about Cavour

  • In truth his policy was directed to the greatness of the State, not to the liberty of the people; he sought the greatest amount of power consistent with the maintenance of the monarchical constitution, not the greatest amount of freedom compatible with national independence. To this question of State, this ragion di stato, everything else but the forms of the government was to be sacrificed.
    • Lord Acton, ‘Cavour’, The Rambler (July 1861), quoted in Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies, eds. Reginald Vere Laurence and John Neville Figgis (1907), p. 182
  • [Cavour is] one of those domineering, grasping men [who has] a radical contempt for all law but their own will. [He] is a Voltairian in his philosophy and wholly unscrupulous in his words and actions – a fact which should not be regarded as a fault in him, for were it otherwise he would be wholly unfit for and incapable of the government of an Italian people. He loves money and has made a large private fortune while attending to the affairs of his nation, and he dearly loves power. Of this he can never bring himself to partake with any other: nor can he brook the least opposition from any quarter great or small.
  • Cavour, the only truly European figure of the Risorgimento. Cavour shows no trace of the congenital narrowness which delayed the intellectual emancipation of the agricultural classes. Sprung though he was from the small landed nobility, he succeeded in ridding himself completely of the intellectual attitude of his class, and attaining a wholly modern conception of the economic functions of Society. His scientific education was in the school of Manchester Liberalism. The studies which he published before 1848 on the Anti-Corn-Law League and the Irish question are as good as anything in the literature of the day; unlike the rhetorical exercises of a Bastiat, they reveal a sense of reality and a preference for facts over doctrinal formulae. To the Manchester School Cavour owed not only a general view of the laws governing exchange, but also something deeper and more intimate, not to be expressed in abstract scientific terms: a consciousness of the expansive power of modern industrial Society, and a confidence in individual initiative and enterprise, destroying old habits in order to launch out on a new path fraught with hopes and dangers.
  • The genius of modern business is present in Cavour's programme of railway construction, out of all proportion with the modest interests of the little Piedmontese kingdom of the time, but commensurate with the needs of the future. The same outlook, the same vital lack of equilibrium between the present and the future, is revealed by his participation in the Crimean War. And Cavour's internal policy, which won the co-operation of conservatives and revolutionaries, Moderates and democrats, however hostile to each other, in a single national scheme, and fitted admirably in its turn into a complicated international policy, gives the full measure of the powers of this genius. In the work of Cavour we feel for the first time in Italian history the living spirit of the modern Liberal State; the State which feeds upon mighty conflicts, which reconciles violent passions any one of which in isolation would be destructive and disastrous, while each, in its union with the others, is an element of life and progress.
  • The death of Cavour is an immense event! ... He was a thorough Italian statesman of the middle ages; most fertile in device, & utterly unscrupulous; an almost unrivalled union of subtelty & vigor.
    • Benjamin Disraeli to Sarah Brydges Willyams (11 June 1861), quoted in Benjamin Disraeli, Letters: 1860–1864, ed. Melvin George Wiebe (1982), p. 124
  • These [the Masonic and Protestant nations] had the objective - apart from personal enrichment and power - an ideological objective for which they were aided by the liberal Freemasons all over the world, was to transform Rome from caput mundi to caput Italiae, for it is evident that Rome as the capital of Italy had ceased to be Rome. In fact, this is said in a way, at a time more or less contemporaneous with the events, Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was a genius, describes this feat of Cavour who had succeeded in transforming a spiritual power like Italy into a colony, and we since then are colonies of whoever has more power moment by moment: it may be England, it may be France, it may be Germany, always colonies we are.
  • For this Fatherland of his, he was ready, as are all great statesmen and founders of nations, to sell his soul; on the altar of this Fatherland of his he would not have hesitated for a single moment to burn all his sentiments, all his interests, all his preconceived ideas, even the Statuto, if it had been necessary, even religion, if it had been shown to be incompatible with the State in which the Fatherland was incarnate.
    • Giovanni Gentile, ‘Preface’, Cavour, Scritti politici (1925), p. xix, quoted in Harry Header, Cavour (2014), pp. 188–189
  • Two men at this moment divide the attention of Europe, the Emperor Napoleon and Count Cavour. I back Count Cavour.
    • François Guizot, quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), pp. 6–7
  • Cavour has all the prudence and all the imprudence of the true statesman.
    • Alessandro Manzoni, quoted in John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Volume II (1903), p. 11
  • We who have seen Italia in the throes,
    Half risen but to be hurled to ground, and now,
    Like a ripe field of wheat where once drove plough,
    All bounteous as she is fair,
    we think of those Who blew the breath of life into her frame:
    Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi: Three:
    Her Brain, her Soul, her Sword; and set her free
    ruinous discords, with one lustrous aim.
    • George Meredith, "For the Centenary of Garibaldi", stanza 1, The Times (London, July 1, 1907), p. 9; reprinted in Phyllis B. Bartlett, ed., Poems of George Meredith (1978), p. 790
  • [The] greatest, Cavour, bold, persistent, far-sighted, subtle, with the true quality of the statesman, as Manzoni said of him, “the prudences and the imprudences,” a prince among all the political calculators whom Mazzini most profoundly distrusted and abhorred.
    • John Morley, Recollections, Volume I (1917), pp. 76–77
  • In truth he was a high-minded political idealist, without a touch of the narrow-minded doctrinaire; he was no evangelist and no pedant; a successful practitioner of expediency, but no empiric. He never professed himself a democrat in any strict sense, and he never sympathised with any of the schools that he always called "the exaggerated." He used words on government by state of siege, and a free church in a free state, which were accepted as orthodox liberal formulae in most of Europe.
  • Acton had an abhorrence of Carlylean hero-worship, and he did less than justice to Cavour's regeneration of Italy. His criticism of a man who for many years of his too brief life was engrossed in a desperate struggle for national independence is cold and dry. He cannot conceal either the scanty resources which Cavour had at his disposal, or the magnitude of the results which those resources were made to achieve. But, true to his favourite subject, he analysed the Minister's conception of liberty, and found it wanting. It was liberty for the State, not liberty for the individual, nor for the Church. Yet Cavour's cherished ideal was “a free Church in a free State,” and he would probably have replied that from the purely individual point of view Piedmont might well challenge comparison with the Austrian provinces of Italy or the States of the Church. If Cavour's life had been spared, we may be sure that he would, as his dying words about Naples imply, have governed in accordance with the principles of constitutional freedom.
    • Herbert Paul, ‘Introductory Memoir’, Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone (1904), p. xxix
  • Count Cavour holds far too great a place in the history of our time to permit us to pass over his death in silence. Short as was his public career, he was the most remarkable man of our generation, and his influence will probably be felt longer and more widely than that of any living being.
  • Far from being a reed painted to look like iron, he was an iron rod painted to look like a reed.
    • William de la Rive (Cavour's cousin), quoted in Denis Mack Smith, Cavour (1985), p. 184
  • All the enlightened thinkers of the world felt the blow as a common loss to the great community of liberty; the Puritans in England lamented: a prince has fallen in Israel.
  • Cavour had trained himself—for no one was his teacher—in what was then the British school of politics. Passionate Italian as he was, his political and economic ideas were based on acute observations made in England, and on a close study of the work of Grey and Peel. Believing in civil and religious freedom to a degree unusual among Continental statesmen of any party, he regarded freely elected Parliaments as the essential organ of government, and force as no remedy, except to expel the stranger and the despot. Any fool, he said, could govern by martial law. According to him, it was the business of a statesman to govern by Parliament, not indeed obeying every behest of ignorant partisans and corrupt interests, but persuading the country and the Chamber to take the right course, by weight of the authority due to wisdom, knowledge and experience. This ideal, seldom realised in any country, was the actual method by which Cavour governed Piedmont in the fifties. If he had lived to govern all Italy in the same manner during the sixties and seventies, the country which he created would have avoided many misfortunes besides those of Custoza, Lissa, and Mentana. And if then the example of Cavour had been preferred to that of Bismarck as the model for the patriots and statesmen of modern Europe, the whole world would now be a better place than it is.
  • [John Bright] enjoyed an interview with Cavour, the only ‘statesman’ whom he really admired between the death of Peel and the Presidency of Lincoln. He noted Cavour's “eye expressing mildness and firmness, and a mouth very pleasing but showing strength. He has the appearance of an intelligent English gentleman farmer, rather than of a fine and subtle Italian.”
  • It is perhaps in the sphere of political institutions that the English have been most original in their native invention, from the time of Magna Charta downwards, or even from the time of William the Conqueror. Certainly it is in politics that the world at large has borrowed most from us; for our literature, though as great as the Greek or Latin, has had relatively little influence outside the English-speaking nations. In politics modern Italy, under Cavour, went to school in England, borrowing thence her constitutional monarchy and parliament.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, 'Englishmen and Italians: Some Aspects of Their Relations Past and Present', read before the British Academy (June 1919), quoted in Clio, A Muse: And other Essays (1913; rev. ed. 1930), p. 106
  • He [Paolo Sarpi] was one of the two foremost Italian statesmen since the Middle Ages, the other being Cavour.