By 1900, Italy was a relatively new country with little sense of national direction. Italy had for centuries been divided up into separate states such as the Papal State, Venice, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies etc. But from 1861 on, these states all came together with one king as their leader. In 1871, Rome was made the capital of Italy. So by 1900, Italy was barely 30 years old as a nation.
Parts of the north had a history of wealth – especially Venice and the Papal State. The north became Europe’s main producer of silk – taking advantage of the fertile soil found there which was needed to grow mulberry bushes on which silkworms fed.
However, the region south of Rome (the kingdom of the Two Sicilies) had been poor throughout its history. The south was traditionally a farming community but many areas had lapsed into banditry and any modernisation in farming techniques experienced in the north and other areas of Western Europe had not reached the south. The growth of education was poor and many children went to work on the land, or in the case of Sicily, in the sulphur mines. Between 1881 and 1884, 3640 miners in Sicily were tested for their fitness to join the army – only 200 passed the test. Many of them had tuberculosis.
Many had hoped that unification would end the poverty experienced in many parts of Italy. The north did make some advances but the south did not. Both north and south seemed to live different existences. In the north, Fiat opened its first factory in Turin in 1899 and the Brenner Pass had been finished in 1867 which linked Italy (though more relevantly the north) to the economic markets of the rest of Western Europe. Not everyone in the north shared in this economic expansion and many northern Italians remained poor.
There was minimal respect for the government in Rome. To add to the woes of the government, the Roman Catholic Church had ordered Italians not to vote for the government as it had lost a lot of land during he process of unification. The power of the pope in Italy at that time was huge. Though there would have been a few who did not listen to what the pope said, many would have done. The lack of support from the church was a major weakness for the government in Rome.
With no obvious chance of progress, many Italians simply left the country. America was the most popular choice for those who wished to emigrate. Between 1876 and 1926, 9 million Italians emigrated there. A further 7.5 million emigrated to other parts of Europe.
The Italy of 1900 was a new country but it was also a weak one. The majority of the country was poor and there was little respect for the government. Even the royal family was not safe. In 1900, King Hubert was assassinated. This was the Italy that Benito Mussolini grew up in.