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FELICE ORSINI (1819-1858)

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Originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 331 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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FELICE ORSINI (1819-1858), Italian revolutionist, was born at Meldola in Romagna. He was destined for an ecclesiastical career, but he soon abandoned that prospect, and became an ardent liberal, joining the Giovane Italia, a society founded by Giuseppe Mazzini. Implicated together with his father in revolutionary plots, he was arrested in 1844 and condemned toimprisonment for life. The new pope, Pius IX., however, set him free, and he led a company of young Romagnols in the first war of Italian independence (1848), distinguishing himself in the engagements at Treviso and Vicenza. He was elected member of the Roman Constituent Assembly in 1849, and after the fall of the republic he conspired against the papal autocracy once more in the interest of the Mazzinian party. Mazzini sent him on a secret mission to Hungary, but he was arrested in 1854 and imprisoned at Mantua, escaping a few months later. In 1857 he published an account of his prison experiences in English under the title of Austrian Dungeons in Italy, which led to a rupture between him and Mazzini. He then entered into negotiations with Ausonio Franchi, editor of the Ragione of Turin, which he proposed to make the organ of the pure republicans. But having become convinced that Napoleon III. was the chief obstacle to Italian independence and the principal cause of the anti-liberal reaction throughout Europe, he went to Paris in 1857 to conspire against him. On the evening of the 14th of January 1858, while the emperor and empress were on their way to the theatre, Orsini and his accomplices threw three bombs at the imperial carriage. The intended victims were unhurt, but several other persons were killed or wounded. Orsini himself was wounded, and at once arrested; on the 11th of February he wrote his famous letter to Napoleon, in which he exhorted him to take up the cause of Italian freedom. He addressed another letter to the youth of Italy, stigmatizing political assassination. He was condemned to death and executed on the 13th of March 1858, meeting his fate with great calmness and bravery. Of his accomplices Pieri also was executed, Rudio was condemned to death but obtained a commutation of sentence, and Gomez was condemned to hard labour for life. The importance of Orsini's attempt lies in the fact that it terrified Napoleon, who came to believe that unless he took up the Italian cause other attempts would follow and that sooner or later he would be assassinated. This fear contributed not a little to the emperor's subsequent Italian policy.
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