Parliament , Consensus and Public Opinion

In Italy, throughout 1848, there was an ongoing battle of representations through which a redefinition of the sources of legitimisation of politics is reached. This phenomenon is to be inserted within a European-type context. Indeed, following the French Revolution and throughout the nineteenth century, the Monarchy had to face up to the difficult passage from one form of dynastic legitimisation to a new legitimisation of a national-representative type.Footnote 1 The restored Monarchies established strategies oriented towards rethinking traditional foundations of sovereignty . Spaces, rituals and symbols of traditional politics would have the constitutional winds, which will blow throughout Europe, and the affirmation of national Parliaments to reckon with. A mirror effect will be created, therefore; Parliaments will soon have to engage with royal power, cut out their own spaces for autonomy, and find formulas capable of legitimising themselves as representative entities of common interests.Footnote 2 Forcing the intentions of the very same sovereigns and the governments that constituted them, parliaments tied legitimisation to the forceful topic of presenting themselves as ‘voices of the people’ and ‘voices of the nation ’.Footnote 3 Public opinion, which follows the constitutional wave, was destined to break up in numerous places and printed pamphlets, observed the work of the legislative assemblies, criticised their works, suggested choices and methods. With the advent of representative regimes, the idea that the constitutional system worked as long as there were balance and harmony between the institutions and public opinion took root.Footnote 4

Above all, for the success of a constitutional regime the consensus of the governed people was indispensable.Footnote 5 On these aspects, we may recall a reflection of Domenico Berti , who highlighted the importance of a link between constitutional process and consensus. First of all, the author noticed those differences between the movement of 1820–1821, which had led to adopting the Spanish constitution of Cádiz , and Italian constitutionalism of 1848.Footnote 6 According to Berti , the difference was to be looked for in the character of spontaneity, or rather, the presence of public discussion.Footnote 7 In other words, the 1848 constitutional process was the fruit of a «popular-governmental movement ».

The remarks, which above we refer to, are also interesting since they gather together certain key themes concerning the institutional renewal of Savoy Piedmont . As can be assumed from the same title, Berti understands the connection between Parliament , legitimisation and the press . For the author, the representative government is synonymous with democratic government in keeping with eclectic thinking adapted to the Italian monarchical context:

«per governo democratico o forma democratica di governo, noi intendiamo il governo che ha per base la sovranità nazionale o più chiaramente l’assenso del popolo, e per fine, il razionale miglioramento delle classi povere. La quale parola usata come qualificativo della monarchia costituzionale , ha per unico oggetto di sceverarla dalla monarchia oligarchica o censitaria. Perciò i principii fondamentali di quella sono i diritti politici in ragione della capacità, mentre i principii fondamentali di questa sono i diritti politici in ragione del censo. Il fine di quella è il bene dell’universale, il fine di questa è il bene dei particolari, in quella il re è fatto pel re. Ecco il senso che noi diamo alla parola democrazia o monarchia democratica».Footnote 8

It would appear that for Berti , a government is democratic and it is legitimate whenever it enjoys the consent of the people and thus is the constitutional monarchy . In such a way, the Author draws close to the ideologies of moderate liberal groups, defending the statutory legality against any future democratic excesses. A central role in the politics of consensus was played by the press, which, abandoning all polemics and abstract reasonings, had to take on the function of ‘practical policy’, that is guarantee publicity and transparency.

The topic of consensus and legitimisation came forcefully back close to the national unification (1860). By way of an example, we may still recall a page of La Nazione which underlined the constitutional role of public opinion so much so as to establish that:

«ogni potestà deriva oggi da essa [l’opinione pubblica] la legittimità sua, perché ella è la legittimità stessa, una cui goccia vale tutto l’olio, onde una volta erano fatti re in nome di Dio uomini scelleratissimi e indegni. La sua alleanza non si acquista per oro o per patti di famiglia e matrimoni abborriti: il suo arbitrato non si travolge per pratiche o macchinazioni. Ella è un magistrato dove i suffragi si contano a milioni: i suffragi paiono talvolta diversi, ma la sentenza è unanime. E quando ella ha parlato, la causa è definita, e non giova opposizione. Ciò che è ora l’opinione pubblica era una volta il papato».Footnote 9

These two examples taken from the sources have been used to highlight how, in two instances central to Italian constitutional history (the passage from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy ; the process of the unification of the Kingdom of Italy under the monarchy of the royal House of Savoy) the topic of consensus and political legitimisation is a question as fundamental as ever. The present essay is a contribution to the study of the legitimisation of the form of representative government in Italy and it proposes some considerations which place the normative data together with constitutional practice, public debate and juridical representations.Footnote 10 Through the use of juridical works on the Statute , the portraying contained in the press as well as some comments of the main protagonists, this contribution aims to provide certain representations which the community has of the constitution.Footnote 11

Between Lemmas and Culture

In Italy, a political-constitutional lexicon comes forward rather late compared to the nearby France . Besides, a study on the sources of legitimisation and sovereignty has to consider the fluidity of political language, as well as the difficult and slow formulation of juridical concepts. In Italy, even during the 3-year Jacobin period, there is a «subordination of language to politics» and very often, words are used as propaganda, for their evocative and ideological potentials or rather they are adapted to the mobile needs of the political battle.Footnote 12 This phenomenon is destined to widen throughout the Nineteenth century when language is linked to the need for a fatherland and nationality.

However if it is true that the birth of modern political language goes hand in hand with the appearing of new modern forms of political life which that language partially mirrors and from which it flows, then we believe that, owing to the ambiguity and the delays with which modern political entities in Italy are formed, our investigation would be unfruitful and sterile if not seen through the lens of the “anomaly” of the Italian context.Footnote 13 Indeed, if by sovereign power we mean, according to modern traditional formulation, the sum of all powers or the absolute power of command from whence all the powers of the state would derive and find their basis, it would not be easy to place, into this pattern, the observable phenomena and public debates in the period that goes from the granting of the Albertine Statute to the birth of the Kingdom of Italy . Besides, in the Italian experience, there lack a constituent assembly , as for example is the case in revolutionary France or in the Belgian experience (1831), and a public debate coeval to the publication of the constitutional text. All this, since, in the moment of granting the Albertine Statute all reference to the genesis of legitimate power is missing, yet sovereignty is in re ipsa in the act of granting the Statute .Footnote 14

In other words, looking at sovereignty in its dual, technical meaning of original and independent power, it would seem that it is a question presupposed to the drafting of a constitution, the latter being the space wherein juridical and political exercise of powers would be established and conflicts between them would be solved. In this sense, Fernanda Mazzanti Pepe has well made clear that in Subalpine Piedmont the nation and its sovereignty remained in the background, mere theoretical legitimisation of a power in some ways self-referential.Footnote 15

Really, the question to be discussed does not so much regard the philosophical or constitutional affirmation of the concept of (whether popular or national) sovereignty , as rather, the idea by which sovereign power would take shape and the sufficiently organic and coherent ways of operating and ruling within the institutional system sketched out by the Statute . With these premises, as regards the Italian case, the question of sovereignty is closely intertwined with the question of the form of government as well as with that of the legitimisation of the representative government . The questions concerning sovereignty can thus be summed up: in the case of contrast between powers who should have the final say? The Parliament or the King ? What is the constitutional space within which the formation of consensus, general will and constitutional legitimisation is outlined? Ultimately, the real issue is not so much the origin or the legal ownership of sovereignty rather the ways of exercising it.

Constitution and Sovereignty Within the ‘ Consiglio di Conferenza ’. Some Choices Between Political Opportunity and Juridical Reasoning

The Albertine Statute is proclaimed on 4th March 1848.Footnote 16 It is a well-known fact that the constitutional charter – preceded by the Proclama dell’8 febbraio (Proclamation of 8th February ) with which the impending issuing of «a Statute fundamental to establish (…) a completed system of representative government »Footnote 17 was announced – it was born already old, even though it will be the only constitution on the Italian peninsula to survive over time, so much so as to be extended over the Kingdom of Italy . The main events that led to the publication of the Constitution and the feelings of the court of Charles Albert are to be found in the well-known Notes et souvenirs of the Chevalier Des Ambrois De Nevâche who will tell how the main constitutional norms were drawn up by the ministers of the kingFootnote 18 examining every political constitution in force throughout Europe and particularly the French Charte of 1830 . The king limited himself to small observations and to the suggestions of little changes. The moment of the signature was a solemn act and marked the end of the absolute power of the Monarchy . At the end of the ceremony all Ministers, upon the example of Borelli , kissed the hand of the sovereign who granted the constitution and resigned from their ministerial post thus leaving room for the first government of the constitutional era.Footnote 19

The day following its coming into force, the press highlighted the limits of the constitutional text:

«noi non vogliamo nascondere che alla prima lettura dello Statuto, siamo per un momento rimasti incerti se fosse il medesimo per corrispondere alla grande aspettazione che se ne aveva; modellato in gran parte sulla Costituzione francese del 1830 , esso ci parve a primo aspetto mancante e incompleto»Footnote 20

Also Bianchi Giovine noticed that

«lo Statuto o la costituzione preconizzata l’otto febbraio e di cui il re ne annunciò gli elementi preliminari, fu pubblicata nel suo intiero il 4 corrente; ma è notabile che se la prima concitò un giubilo straordinario, non fu così della seconda che anche in vista dei nuovi avvenimenti in Francia, avrebbe potuto essere un po’ più disimpacciata»Footnote 21

Nonetheless, it was recognised that

«la costituzione Carl’Albertina in nessun altro articolo può essere inferiore alle altre due costituzioni italiane».Footnote 22

Against the ‘malevolent critics’ who complained about the brevity and the backwardness of the constitution text, intervened Camillo Cavour who, in a famous article which appeared in the Il Risorgimento newspaper, clarified that

«uno statuto organico deve racchiudere, a senso nostro, i principi fondamentali della costituzione e nulla di più. Onde siamo disposti a credere piuttosto essere sceso in troppi particolari. Le leggi organiche che il legislatore ci annunzia, quella elettorale segnatamente, sono il completamento dello Statuto, sono esse che ne costituiranno in massima parte il merito reale».Footnote 23

The famous statesman underlined that:

Una nazione non può spogliarsi della facoltà di mutare con mezzi legali le sue leggi politiche. Non può menomamente, in alcun modo, abdicare il potere costituente. Questo, nelle monarchie assolute, è riposto nel sovrano legittimo; nelle monarchie costituzionali il Parlamento, cioè il Re e le Camere, ne sono pienamente investiti … Ma se un tale potere sta nel Parlamento da noi dichiarato onnipotente, il Re solo non lo possiede più. Un ministro che gli consigliasse di fare un uso senza consultare la nazione, violerebbe i principi costituzionali, incorrerebbe nella più grave responsabilità.Footnote 24

With this article Cavour contributed to spreading the idea that the constitutional text was flexible and could be broadened and updated through organic laws.Footnote 25

Weighing upon these negative judgments, recalled Federico Sclopis , there was the shadow of the second French republic which put an end to the Monarchy of July raising the doubt that a constitution granted by the King is one of those «po-tions of quacks».Footnote 26 It is opportune, however, to highlight that some choices and anachronisms of the Albertine Statute can be explained by the circumstance that Charles Albert was determined to overcome the obstacle of the constitution in the political sense of the word, of the representative and democratic constitution, degrading and limiting royal authority with the granting of a legal order which profoundly changes the State, which constitutes real progress as regards the preceding regime. In other words, the Statute of Charles Albert served to defend the monarchy from the threat of the people by way of a conciliatory act and renounced the word constitution in favour of the word statute thus recalling in such a way the constitutional statutes of the Kingdom of Italy (1805–1810) as well as municipal tradition.

In the Minutes of the Consiglio di Conferenza (Conference Council),Footnote 27 we can read that the royal granting had to

«combinare e calcolare tutti gli elementi di cui si potrebbe disporre per formulare un progetto conservatore capace di tutelare la dignità sovrana, l’autorità reale e la tranquillità del paese»Footnote 28

Marquis Cesare Alfieri di Sostegno , the Minister for Education, noted that

«l’opinione pubblica più o meno illuminata sulle questioni più gravi, ma sovraeccitata dalla stampa liberale, soverchia il Governo da ogni parte, al punto da intralciare nel modo più allarmante la sua azione e la sua iniziativa; e se ciò è così, non è meglio costituire legalmente l’opinione in Parlamento, anziché lasciar durare questo stato di antagonismo, il cui urto diretto ed immediato scuote ogni giorno la Monarchia fin nelle sue fondamenta?» Footnote 29

For such reasons, within the Consiglio di Conferenza (Conference Council), the idea strengthened that the constitution was a «calamity», but it was always the «lesser evil in order to avoid larger catastrophes». Therefore, for Count Avet , the only alternative was a «moderate constitution, like that of France , or any other that was compatible with the honor of the Crown».Footnote 30

Finally, the Albertine charter attempted to sterilise popular sovereignty and constituent power by avoiding every reference to it. Royal sovereignty is the only source of political legitimacy and all the auctoritas resides in the person of the monarch who has decided to grant the constitution as well as limiting himself. In this way, it joined with the opinion of the time, expressed by Talleyrand and by Metternich and included for the first time in the famous preamble of the Charte of 1814 , according to which the monarchy maintained the plentitudo potetastis of absolute monarchy within the constitutional regime and via the granting of a fundamental law reaffirmed its supremacy. An idea of “rational monarch” came to the fore in this way, one which went comfortably together with the old figure of the royal sacredness.Footnote 31 Therefore, the Albertine Statute may be fully placed within that which Werner Daum defined monarchical constitutionalism with monarchical predominance which saw, from 1814 to 1815, widespread radiation throughout Europe and opposed monarchical constitutionalism with parliamentary predominance, which remained a sporadic form, except for Spain (1820–1823), Naples (1820–1821), Piedmont (1821), Portugal (1822–1823), at least till the revolutions of 1848.Footnote 32

Culture, Foreign Models and Coeval Experiences

From the minutes of the Consiglio di Conferenza (King ’s Council), it clearly emerges that the model which inspired the compilers was the French constitutional ordinances adapted to the context of Piedmont . The King when entrusting the task was, however, careful to underline the non-servile imitation of the foreign constitutional texts, mindful of the events of 1812 that witnessed the promulgation of a constitution (the Cádiz constitution) disconnected from the political and economic situation of the kingdom. The foreign models were ‘adapted at a lower level’, fruit of practical and empirical changes determined more by the needs of events than by matured choices and organic, theoretic elaborations.Footnote 33

On the topic of sovereignty , Italian authors found their theoretic reference points and began their rebuilding journey from Romagnosi and Sismondi with continual references to the English tradition as seen through French culture.Footnote 34 The choice of the French, restoration model meant the non-acceptance of the revolutionary tradition. The French Revolution had dethroned the sovereign leaving the question of filling the ‘empty throne’.Footnote 35 The sovereignty of the absolute monarch was transferred to the people.

The Chartes of 1814 and 1830 had recourse to the contractual technique.Footnote 36 The Charte of 1814 makes express reference to the pact between sovereign and people. The 1830 Charte is not octroyée (granted) but it is the emanation of the French parliament and Louis-Philippe accepts subscribing to a pact becoming king of France . The doctrinarians from Orléans qualified sovereignty in negative terms and formulated the doctrine of sovereignty of the Constitution.Footnote 37 François Guizot pointed out that both the sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty of the absolute monarch led to tyranny.Footnote 38 The author used, moreover, the distinction between origin and exercise of sovereignty . According to him, the people delegated the exercise of sovereignty to the representatives to the end of guaranteeing the functioning of the new institutions via a contract. The distinction between the exercise and origin of sovereignty served the purpose of limiting and neutralising popular sovereignty.Footnote 39 Also Charles Guillaume Hello , deputy of the July Monarchy , noted that the English constitution was the work of the parliament while in France the parliament was the work of the Constitution. This historical fact caused that, in France, the illusion of constituent power developed. Fruit of the rational method that wants a separation between creative moment and creation. This distinction was not however needed any more and was no longer present in the Charte. Footnote 40

From this point, the liberals recognised the attribute of sovereign entity to the Constitution and in it, was the absorption of the sovereignty of the people , the Constitution became an ab origine depositary of the supreme power. The theory of sovereignty of the Constitution, elaborated throughout the course of the Restoration, constituted a phase for the ultimate definition of the concept of national sovereignty .Footnote 41

The compilers of the Albertine Statute were aware of the French debate on sovereignty and for this reason every reference to the origin of legitimate power was left out. The protagonists of the constituent process in Piedmont , even if imbued in French culture, did not think ill of looking beyond the Channel, the father-land of all liberties. Concerning the topic of sovereignty and within the view of an evolutionary interpretation of the Statute , there were several references to English works and among those most mentioned was the reconstruction contained in the Commentaries of Blackstone :

«The power and jurisdiction of parliament, says Sir Edward Coke , is so transcendent and absolute, that it cannot be confined, either for causes or persons, within any bounds. And of this high court, he adds, it may be truly said, “si antiquitatem spectes, est vetustissima; si dignitatem, est honoratissima; si jurisdictionem, est capacissima”. It hath sovereign and uncontrollable authority in the making, confirming, enlarging, restraining, abrogating, repealing, reviving, and expounding of laws, concerning matters of all possible denominations, ecclesiastical or temporal, civil, military, maritime, or criminal. (…) It can, in short, do everything that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call its power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what the parliament doth, no authority upon earth can undo: so that it is a matter most essential to the liberties of this kingdom that such members be delegated to this important trust as are most eminent for their probity, their fortitude, and their knowledge».Footnote 42

In these famous pages, the author contributed to the development of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament , Footnote 43 according to which there was no supreme authority which could limit the powers of the legislature and there was no subject that couldn’t be discussed and approved in Parliament . On the other hand, the authority of the Parliament did not find constitutional limits so that it could change the Constitution. In particular, Blackstone referred to Sir Edward Coke . When Coke spoke of «transcendent and absolute» authority, he recognized that the powers inherent in Parliament were derived from the law and no other authority.Footnote 44 By virtue of the supremacy of the law, all powers, including those of the King , were subjected to the law. Coke limited the prerogatives of royal power through parliamentary control and the common law. This was because the law did not include only the law of the reigning monarch, but also the laws of his predecessors and the Parliaments convened in the past. Following this line of reasoning, with simple and attractive lexicon, Blackstone not only described the British parliamentary system , but contributed with his work to create the myth of the British Constitution .Footnote 45

In 1822, the Commentaries of Blackstone are translated and annotated in French and through this edition circulated in Piedmont . M. Christian explained the meaning of “omnipotence of Parliament ” to the public. The French judge said:

«L’omnipotence du parlement n’est que le pouvoir souverain de l’État, ou un pouvoir d’action qui n’est contrôlé par aucun pouvoir supérieur. En ce sens, le roi dans l’exercice de ses prérogatives, et la chambre des lords dans l’exercice de l’interprétation des lois, sont de même tout-puissants; c’est-à-dire que la constitution n’a établi aucun supérieur pour restreindre en cela leur pouvoir».Footnote 46

Alexis de Tocqueville , too, who had a great influence in Italy, noted that:

«En Angleterre, on reconnaît au parlement le droit de modifier la constitution. En Angleterre, la Constitution peut donc changer sans cesse, au plutôt elle n’existe point. Le parlement en même temps qu’il est corps législatif et corps constituants».Footnote 47

The British doctrine of Sovereignty of Parliament occupied the place that elsewhere was assigned to the sovereignty of people or the sovereignty of the State.Footnote 48 In England , the concept of sovereignty would be tightly connected to the concept of freedom and people: sovereignty was no longer a vague, imprecise idea, rather it was the expression and the function of an individual sovereignty. Sovereignty was considered as belonging to the people since it was made up of individuals who each possessed rights wherein elements of sovereignty could be seen. In contrast to the French case, where the pouvoir constituant was an exceptional sovereignty, the doctrine of the Omnipotence of Parliament considered constituent power as a historical combination derived from the balance of powers.Footnote 49 Parliament had many functions, not only the legislative one.Footnote 50 The Parliament was the place where it resolved clashes. In addition, the legislature was the place which linked the consent of governed people with rulers. If Blackstone insisted on the Sovereignty of Parliament, John Locke had, however, the merit of recognizing a particular strength of the consensus.Footnote 51 In fact, he said:

«This legislative is not only the supreme power of the commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have once placed it. Nor can any edict of anybody else, in what form soever conceived, or by what power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law which has not its sanction from that legislative which the public has chosen and appointed; for without this the law could not have that which is absolutely necessary to its being a law, the consent of the society, over whom nobody can have a power to make laws but by their own consent and by authority received from them; and therefore all the obedience, which by the most solemn ties any one can be obliged to pay, ultimately terminates in this supreme power, and is directed by those laws which it enacts».Footnote 52

Later, on this particular aspect, Walter Bagehot clarified that the link between the governed/rulers focused on the fact that «the mass of the English people yield a deference rather to something else than to their rulers. They defer to what we may call the theatrical show of society».Footnote 53 According to Bagehot, the British constitutional system was made up on the mass of the people who yielded obedience to a select few and «the few rule by their hold, not over the reason of the multitude, but over their imaginations, and their habits; over their fancies as to distant things they do not know at all, over their customs as to near things which they know very well».Footnote 54

Drawing experience from the English Constitution , the Subalpine liberals agree to the idea that the Constitutional Government rests upon public opinion. Indeed, even in later moments, reference to the English experience remained a constant for Italian constitutionalists.Footnote 55

In conclusion, it is possible to observe that the Albertine Statute was also coherent with those Italian octroyées constitutions of 1848 which, on this matter, opted for silence and drew inspiration from the French Charters.Footnote 56 Such were the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies ,Footnote 57 published on 10th February 1848 by Ferdinando II, the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany Footnote 58 published on 15th February by Leopoldo II, and the Fundamental Statutes of the Papal States ,Footnote 59 elaborated by a commission of clergymen in a single month (14th February – 12th March 1848) during the papacy of Pius IX . Being born in order to subdue the uprisings, they were similarly brief and laconic and left a lot to constitutional practice. Nevertheless, we are dealing with charters that had a very brief lifespan and were unable to translate themselves into experience. Diametrically opposed to Italian constitutional choices will be, the Constitution of the Roman Republic ,Footnote 60 voted by the constituent assembly and approved on 3rd July 1849. At article 1 it affirmed that «la sovranità è per diritto eterno nel popolo. Il popolo dello Stato Romano è costituito in repubblica democratica» (sovereignty is by eternal right within the people. The people of the State of Rome is constituted in a democratic republic).

The Sovereign Power between Dictionaries, Political Catechisms and Newspapers

Above and beyond any explicit literal reference to the concepts of sovereignty and to the origins of legitimate power , in the period following the granting of the Albertine Statute , lexical alchemies proper of the Italian constitutional tradition were created. It is on the level of an evolutionary interpretation of the Statute that the cares of the most enlightened minds of the Kingdom concentrated.

Sovereignty is a changeable concept: it changes physiognomy and was the subject of theoretic fleeting treatments, as Cesare Balbo recalled:

«la parola sovranità è gravida di dubbi ed ambagi non è definita per anche unanimemente dalle scuole politiche, filosofiche né teologiche; volendo alcune (dette storiche a’ nostri dì) che ogni sovranità , quelle dei principi come delle repubbliche, abbia sua legittimità e suo diritto, o dal governo anteriore risalendo fino al primitivo, ovvero dal tempo, cioè da un lungo, consentito possesso; e volendo l’altra (detta filosofica) che ogni sovranità abbia legittimità e diritto da un presupposto contratto tra sovrano ed il popolo. Né mi porrò a disputare quale delle due scuole parte da un principio più giusto; o se i due non possan forse confondersi in quel possesso consentito. Bensì farò osservare che, in tutte queste scuole, qualunque di questi principi implica il diritto che ha il sovrano di mutare epperciò di diminuire il governo, cioè la somma potenza, col consenso del popolo»Footnote 61

Eighteen Forty-eight is the annus mirabilis in that it will impose new sentences and a redefinition of the vocabulary caused by, above all, lexicographic initiatives, important in the history of political language.Footnote 62 What with the ambiguities and the difficulties Balbo noted, a tidying up will be attempted, trying to retie the old and the new, keeping the ghosts of the French Revolution at bay. The effort is to present change as continuity. These attempts are very evident in the language transformations, as it is possible to note through the analysis of dictionaries, catechisms and newspapers. As we will see, at the centre of the debate, there will be the precise definition of the representative government as sole form of legitimate government .


Public debate in 1848 went on at various levels. The need to discuss public matters created a real ‘community of the word’ and of print media . Public discussions wished to influence the choices of the rulers, they recalled the previous tradition and they invented a constitutional maturity which did not exist and was not supported by adequate theoretical elaboration.Footnote 63

The need to spread new political content and make constitutional language simple and familiar is, first of all, faced by editorial businesses who will give birth to new dictionaries.

In the Dizionario politico popolare, published by Pomba in 1851, we read that sovereignty

«è la somma dei poteri concentrati nell’autorità suprema di uno Stato indipendente. V’ha sovranità di fatto, ve n’ha di diritto. La prima equivale all’usurpazione, la seconda emana dalla vera sua fonte. La vera fonte della sovranità è il popolo, mentre, nascendo gli uomini liberi ed eguali, ed avendo pur bisogno di un’autorità suprema a cui siano affidati i poteri governativi per reggerli nella società civile, appartiene ad essi l’elezione di tale autorità. Ogni sovranità che non scaturisce dunque dal suffragio del popolo è razionalmente illegittima. Eppure i pilastri del despotismo dicono, alla rovescia, essere anzi il legittimismo qualità della sovranità che non nacque dal popolo, ma dal diritto divino»Footnote 64

With regard to the political and constitutional vocabulary, sovereignty refers to the concept of legitimacy . This connection is recorded in the Dizionario politico-giovanile, published in Turin in 1849, which recognised how

«in politica, legittimità ha un senso affatto suo e comparativamente moderno. Pretendersi che nel Congresso di Vienna il Principe di Talleyrand mettesse in campo e facesse prevalere la dottrina della legittimità nel significato di diritto al potere sovrano, conferito da Dio stesso ereditariamente ad alcune famiglie».Footnote 65

More interesting is the definition of legitimacy contained in the Dizionario politico parlamentare:

«La teoria politica della legittimità è quella che ammette il diritto ereditario di regnare in alcune famiglie come emanate direttamente da Dio. È un dogma relioso politico, affatto contrario al principio della sovranità popolare »Footnote 66

These examples taken from the principal dictionaries of the time show how the conceptual intertwining is delicate and is destined to ambiguous overlapping be-tween sovereignty of the people and monarchical principle , constituent organ and royal prerogatives. The materials utilised are not coherent. The dictionaries include neologisms and record concepts and new ideas, but we know that the technical terms of which they avail themselves is very limited. Dictionaries, often, tend to present lemmas in a not-very problematic way, rather to provide for exemplifying and elementary notions.

Political Catechisms

The Nineteenth century is also the century where the question of education of the people is strongly perceived and the entire liberal movement is aware of the need to have its propaganda penetrate within the ranks of the popular classes. The propaganda often goes hand in hand with popularisation, the printed page becoming instrument of persuasion and struggle. Political catechisms, too, contribute to the spreading of the representative monarchical regime inaugurated by the constitutional charter. We are dealing with a literary genre in a dialogue form circulating in Europe from France . Political catechisms aimed principally at circulating political institutions and new constitutional ideas.Footnote 67

The most important example in the Kingdom of Sardinia is the very famous Piccolo catechismo costituzionale ad uso del Popolo, published by Michelangelo Castelli and Giorgio Briano following the Proclamation of 8th February with the aim of circulating knowledge of the fundamental Statute . With regard to the nature of representative government and on sovereign power as supreme power, it affirmed that «the representative government is that in which the supreme judiciary , instead of possessing absolute power , is subject to the control of one or more assemblies of notable citizens, who contribute to the formulation of the Laws of the land together with it»,Footnote 68 pointing out that in the monarchical constitutional form the government rules by virtue of a pact and «the difference between a constitutional Monarch and an absolute Monarch is, therefore, in this: that the former possess the supreme power only on certain conditions allowed by his people».Footnote 69

The ideas contained in the catechism bearing the names of Castelli and Briano were corroborated by and were readily discussed in the press. Particularly, Pietro Luigi Albini highlighted from the pages of Il Costituzionale Subalpino the main errors contained therein. The famous professor remarked on the lexical inaccuracies contained in the popular work of Castelli and Briano . The definition of ‘representative government ’ was first of all criticised. The inexact idea of supreme authority was criticised noting that

«se nelle monarchie costituzionali la sovranità , o come il nostro autore si esprime, la suprema magistratura, non si possiede e non si esercita che in virtù di un patto, di un contratto con il popolo, e solo a certe condizioni, la conseguenza che inevitabilmente e direttamente ne deriva, si è che, non adempiendo il monarca dal canto suo il contratto, mancando ad alcune delle condizioni del medesimo, egli decade dalla sovranità , dalla suprema magistratura. (…) Posto ciò la sovranità del Re è distrutta, il principio dell’inviolabilità della sua persona, della sua responsabilità è un’illusione»Footnote 70

Albini specified that the idea that the sovereignty of the King is exercised by virtue of a contract is an old idea which has its matrix in the thought of Rousseau and which is not matched by the constitutional experience of Piedmont , also because the contract is not the only source from where to make obligations descend down to the Crown. Albini took up again the idea that sovereignty comes down from the Constitution itself:

«una nuova legge fondamentale che stabilisce una nuova forma di governo, che regola l’esercizio della sovranità, il modo di essere della medesima com’è richiesto dalle condizioni della civiltà, che determini i diritti e i doveri del sovrano e del popolo, obbliga per se stessa irrevocabilmente il sovrano che l’ha fatta e i suoi successori senza bisogna di ricorrere ad un contratto che non esiste, e che legalmente non sarebbe guari concepibile, od a un’ipotesi ripugnante alla realtà del fatto».Footnote 71


Particularly, the newspapers will constitute the place where a modern public opinion which will be critical and alert will develop. In Piedmont , the edict on the press of 30th October 1847 favoured the birth of new periodical newspapers.Footnote 72 Previous to 1848, the only political newspaper was the Gazzetta Piemontese , faithful expression of the government . From 1848, journalism affirmed itself as a privileged place of political discussion, gradually abandoning the merely informative, denotative and referential function, in order to open up to thoughts of a theoretical nature, to reforming propositions and to critical reports of political discussions. It is in this context that newspapers autonomous of the government are published among which, for example, Il Risorgimento Footnote 73 and La Concordia Footnote 74 but also L’Opinione , Footnote 75 Il Costituzionale Subalpino . Footnote 76

In the weeks that followed the promulgation of the constitutions and preceded the opening of Parliament , in the columns of the newspapers the attempt to popularise the new representative regime was never neglected. Within this framework, we can highlight that printed journalism shows an impetuous innovative tension, accepting neologisms, words of a foreign hue, bureaucratic and regional usages, and forcing itself to elaborate a more agile style than the traditional one.Footnote 77 An example are the Lezioni popolari sullo Statuto which appear in six issues of the newspaper L’Opinione . During the fifth lesson, the two main theories on sovereignty are reviewed: popular sovereignty and legitimism. As regards the first theory, the article writer noted that

«la sovranità esercitata direttamente dal popolo, esiste come principio teorico in alcune repubbliche, nel fatto non fu mai se non una finzione: imperocchè la moltitudine è una massa bruta che si lascia costantemente guidare dagli intrighi di pochi ambiziosi che sono effettivamente i suoi sovrani. Nelle piccole repubbliche svizzere, massime dove il governo democratico è assoluto, la sovranità del popolo si limita al diritto di darsi una volta all’anno delle bastonate, nell’occasione che elegge i suoi Landamanni, o per dire meglio, nell’occasione che i candidati gli sono imposti dai caporioni del paese che si contrastano il potere»Footnote 78

The consequence was that to reduce, in practice, popular sovereignty meant anarchy and disorder. Opposite to popular sovereignty was the co-called theory of divine right founded upon the presupposition that the dignity and power of Kings came from God. The author tries to neutralise the sovereignty as power concentrated in one, sole organ: the most lasting political societies are those where

«l’autorità sovrana si trovasse condivisa in modo da tenere egualmente lontano e il dispotismo dell’uno e il dispotismo dei troppi».Footnote 79

The idea which is affirmed is that of the sharing and balancing of the powers where sovereignty shall never be concentrated into one, single place:

«quando uno stato è in rivoluzione, e che ha bisogno di fare molte cose al di dentro ed al di fuori, e di agire con vigore ed impeto, è necessario un potere unico che si arroghi le attribuzioni legislative, esecutive e giudiziarie, come era la Convenzione, potere che in altri termini è il dispotismo trasferito da uno a molti individui, o dagli eccessi di una corte all’arena di un partito. Ma quando un paese si trova in condizioni normali, e che desidera conservare le sue libertà, ha d’uopo che i poteri siano controbilanciati»Footnote 80

Still having the goal of making the concepts and new language understandable in the newspaper Concordia , Giuseppe Bertinetti , a lawyer, concerned himself with making the theory of parliamentary omnipotence familiar, in virtue of the fact that he learned from the columns of the same newspaper that the Government had recognised this principle to itself. From here was the meaning of the principle of parliamentary omnipotence in the legal order of Piedmont clarified:

«se dietro lo statuto non vi sono altri poteri tranne quelli creati e definiti dallo statuto medesimo, ne risulta che qualunque atto pari oltrepassare essi poteri sarà tassato di incostituzionalità epperciò di nullità radicale provocherà la dissoluzione delle Camere e si avrà ricorso ad un’assemblea nazionale ».Footnote 81

Indeed, the Italian constitutional charters (those of Tuscany , Naples and Piedmont ), noted Bertinetti , did not foresee, even knowing of the Belgian model, any article for constitutional revision neither the necessary recourse to a constituent assembly . A consequence of all this, for proper practical reasons, was that, in Italy, the principle elaborated in England was implemented.

Throughout the long nineteenth century, indeed, the constituent power was marginalised due to cultural reasons: the liberals identified in it the causes of the political instability which France was going through.Footnote 82 Finally, in Italy the question debated was if the constituent power should consider itself a separate power or whether internal to legislative power. Filipponeri Spanò noted that according to the traditional theoretical layout, the exercise of the constituent power laid either in the persona of the sovereign who grants the Charter, or in a national assembly of representatives chosen by the people charged with a special ad hoc power and in-dependent from the legislative power. This, gave rise to the following questions in Italy: did modifications to the articles of the Statute have to come about via an extraordinary power different from the ordinary legislative one or else via the same constituted power? Is the constituent power a power or a function? According to the author, the answers to these queries was:

«il Parlamento è una perpetua Costituente. Col sistema dell’onnipotenza parlamentare si ha appunto una sola sovranità ordinaria, e si evita il grave inconveniente delle due sovranità, che volere o non volere, non puossi sfuggire col potere costituente».Footnote 83

Simply, the Statute did absolutely not pose itself the problem of modifiability and procedures for its revision , because in the original intention it was non-negotiable. However, as happens for normative texts, as regards interpretations, wishes for its reform were not lacking. The constituent assembly being terms that reminded of revolutionary events , the mellower road of a sovereign power shared by various parties: King and Houses was chosen.Footnote 84

The Represented “Nation ”: A Pact Between Sovereign and People, the Force of the Constitution and Political Representation

We said that the granted charter of Piedmont is based upon the monarchical principle , anyway lacking a constituent power which is anchored to the nation. From the very beginning, however, the theory of parliamentary omnipotence circulated in Italy even though, as Maurizio Fioravanti has noted, the English principle of the King in Parliament never fully took root on the continent,Footnote 85 rather, we may say that the theory of parliamentary omnipotence acted as a shield to keep the ghost of constituent power away.

In Piedmont , the parliament was certainly not representative of popular sovereignty being constituted by the Senate of royal nomination and a chamber elected on the basis of census. Article 7 of the Proclamation made it clear that the Chamber of Deputies will be elected on the basis of the census to be determined. While, the Statute defined the deputies representatives of the nation. Article 41 stated: «deputies represent the Nation in general, and not only the provinces which elected them. No imperative and representative mandate can be given by Voters».Footnote 86 It is not possible to reconstruct the genesis of this article, which appears in analogous way also in the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and in the Electoral Law of Tuscany of 1848. For certain people, the constitutional principle which sees deputies representing the nation dated back to the revolutionary period with the law of 22nd December 1789: «The representatives nominated to the national assembly of the departments cannot be considered as representatives of one, particular department, but as the representatives of the totality of departments, that is, of the whole nation».Footnote 87 Such a principle was reaffirmed by the French Constitution of 1791 and by that of 1795, while it was not in the Constitutions of 1814 and 1830 . We could also hazard the hypothesis that the compilers of the Statute found the rule also in article 32 of the Belgian Constitution , even if the principle of national sovereignty of the latter was not adopted.Footnote 88

The Statute , because of its nature of Charte octroyée (granted Charter), was weak as regards legitimisation. The first observers of the constitution immediately noted the lack of a democratic element which expressed itself via the constituent power and sovereignty. In this context, even though trying to neutralise the supreme power into the hands of the people, the attempts to bridge this gap were numerous.

Among the various ideas that were gaining ground, there was that which saw a pact or an agreement between Sovereign and people in the Statute . On the dawn of the promulgation of the constitution, Elia Benza noted that

«la Costituzione dunque puramente donata o conceduta avrebbe sempre in sé un mal germe, un vizio d’origine che potrebbe condurre a pericoli e conseguenze funeste al principe e alla nazione»Footnote 89

If the constitution was a gift, the royal will remained the supreme power and the only foundation of the political regime. Oppositely, if the Statute was a pact, a convention between Sovereign and people, it would generate obligations and rights for both parties.

«Sì veramente, la Costituzione, anche nel senso strettamente monarchico, significa una convenzione o non significa nulla. Dico nel senso monarchico, perché nel senso filosofico Costituzione significa il complesso delle leggi politiche sotto le quali un popolo si costituisce in nazione ».Footnote 90

The idea that the representative government bases its legitimacy upon a pact between sovereign and people was also present in Catechismo by Castelli and Briano . Of the opposite opinion was, however, Pier Luigi Albini who noted that the Statute , from a juridical point of view, was neither a convention nor a donation, but it was an «act of justice and political wisdom and magnanimity».Footnote 91 According to the eminent professor it would, technically, have been a mistake to speak of a pact between sovereign and people:

«la legge con cui un re trasforma una monarchia assoluta in monarchia costituzionale è il più grande atto di sovranità ».Footnote 92

For Albini , the salient element consisted in the fact that the sovereign, through the Constitution, decided to share his authority with the people. From this moment on, the people concurred to exercising sovereignty .

It is within the force of the Constitution itself, that we have to find the same legitimisation of the representative government and from there begins the normalisation and the codification of civic life, so much so, that the exercise of supreme power would have to be employed according to the juridical rules contained therein. However, having considered that the Statute is a political act of the King , the liberals concentrated their attention on the representation while realising that with regard to this, one of the most important games will be played.

Since, on the basis of the census, in collective thinking the elective presence qualified the whole legal order making it finally “national”. On this layout, once again the comments of the Orléanist doctrinarians from Guizot to Hello – who saw a convergence point of the exercise of sovereignty in the theory of representation – carried weight. Indeed, the French liberals , wishing to limit the effects of popular sovereignty , forcefully established that the people could not exercise, by itself, sovereign power but it had to delegate it to representatives who took care of the general interest. The idea of national representation on the basis of individual and census where the selection of the most capable to govern occurred in accordance with the census criterion became manifest.Footnote 93

Representation was a topic which was continually placed in front of public opinion. The Italian debate on this topic was characterised by the circulation of a plurality of models which adapted the archetypes elaborated by the doctrine to political necessities imposed by circumstances.Footnote 94 The chance to discuss national representation was given by the promulgation of the electoral law . Following the granting of the constitution, King Charles Albert constituted three different com-missions to intervene, respectively on the topic of freedom of the press, on electoral law and municipal militia. The commission for electoral law , was presided over by Cesare Balbo and among the members there appear also Camillo Cavour and Ettore Ricotti , the latter was the author of a pamphlet dedicated to national representation.Footnote 95 The electoral law was published on 17th March 1848 and was based upon the criteria of census and on capability.Footnote 96 Voters were whoever paid 40 lire of tax or an annual rent ranging from 200 to 600 lire. Effective members of royal academies were also voters because of capability, so too were teachers of secondary schools, irremovable magistrates, members of the Chambers or Committees of commerce and agriculture, retired state officials and functionaries of the state who enjoyed a pension greater than 1200 lire. The right to be voted was recognised, with the payment of half of the census, to graduates, notaries public, legal representatives for colleges, retired state officials and state functionaries with a pension going from 600 to 1200 lire.

The connection between representative system and electoral law was destined to last in the thoughts of political journalism to such an extent that the electoral law was seen as the key of a change of direction of the whole representative sys-tem. In the abovementioned article of 10th March 1848, bearing Cavour ’s signature, it is affirmed that the electoral law was one of those fundamental laws which characterised the new constitutional regime. This article was preceded by another four with the specific subject of electoral law. Cavour , after having shown his contrariness to the municipal model,Footnote 97 paused respectively over the number of the members of the elective assembly,Footnote 98 over the electoral constituencies,Footnote 99 the active electorate and the conditions of eligibility .Footnote 100 Cavour insisted upon political representation in that it was a fundamental institution of the new constitutional construction:

«costituire un’assemblea, che rappresenti quanto più esattamente e sinceramente sia possibile, gli interessi veri, le opinioni ed i sentimenti della nazione: e che però sia composta di cittadini atti al difficile incarico e nello stesso tempo dotati di sufficiente scienza e moralità per cooperare utilmente alla confezione delle leggi e al governo del paese»Footnote 101

We may deduce from the words of the subalpine statesman, the idea that representative assemblies are the only ones that are able to give a voice to and represent the nation. We can also note that the public debates regarding electoral law and representation permitted filling the reflections on the ‘nation’ with practical connotations which, even if they were not lacking in Italian political thought, till 1848, remained still to an anthropological meaning, indeterminate and, anyway, devoid of an effective corroboration on an institutional level.Footnote 102 While, for a clearer formulation of ‘nation’ as homogeneous entity able to place itself as sovereign subject on the international scene we have to wait for the well-known inaugural lecture by Pasquale Stanislao Mancini .Footnote 103

As Allegretti noted, during the liberal period the monarchical principle and the representative principle lived side by side.Footnote 104 First of all, this is possible because, unanimously, the monarchical principle was not understood as having an absolutist meaning, as in the French Charte of 1814 which enclosed supreme authority in the person of the King , but in the more modern meaning of a monarchy which through the granting of the constitution constrained itself fully and irrevocably to it. On the other hand, representation was considered a genetic element of the new legal order which was qualified as ‘representative monarchical government ’ in virtue of the formula contained in article 2 of the Statute . Via this principle of living together, it established that the basis of sovereignty lived in the Crown as well as in the politically represented Nation .Footnote 105

From Words to Practice. Initial Steps of the ‘Representative Government ’

In Italy, a parliamentary government – if by this we mean the institutional mechanism which binds the Government to the elected Chamber via the confidence and the principle that the Parliament (in that it is representative of the nation) is capable, by way of its own majority, of orientating government policies – had difficulty in affirming itself. The question of the form of government occupied jurists ever since the promulgation of the constitutional text.Footnote 106 At the same time, dealing with the form of government , especially in its practical development, meant observing the way in which sovereignty was shared out and organised.

As we have already said, the formula used by the Statute to describe the new constitutional regime is representative government .Footnote 107 This lexical expression is a fluid category which allows us to bring together in one formula both the ideas of who, in the statuary timeframe, tends to envisage the form of government of the pure constitutional monarchy where the Monarch maintains executive control and the ideas of who exalts parliamentary influences .Footnote 108 For that which regards the exercise of sovereignty in the representative government , one of the first commentators of the Albertine Statute noted:

«il sistema monarchico rappresentativo è fondato all’incontro sul principio che il monarca abbia a dividere colla nazione una parte della sovranità. Ma, come nella repubblica, la nazione non potrebbe occuparsi direttamente di affari politici. Vengono per ciò da essa nominati nei modi prescritti da apposite leggi individui che godono della fiducia della maggioranza e che si assicurano il mandato di rappresentare quella parte di sovranità o di compartecipazione al potere pubblico che per il maggior bene dello Stato è conferito dallo Statuto fondamentale alla nazione , e per essa ai suoi rappresentanti».Footnote 109

For Castiglioni, instead,

«il potere costituente legittimo sta dunque nel popolo, ossia, per una necessità morale che abbiamo dimostrata, nell’intelligente e capace maggioranza di esso. Il consenso dei più vale a rendere obbligatoria la costituzione, non già perché si supponga il tacito consenso anche del numero minore, ma perché, senza dare alla volontà preponderante una forza giuridica ed obbligatoria, la società non potrebbe sussistere. E quanto più la volontà della maggioranza sarà libera e largamente espressa, quanto più si avvicinerà, per progredita educazione nazionale, al suffragio universale, tanto più acquisterà forza morale la costituzione in nome di essa stabilita ed accettata».Footnote 110

The author specified that

«non sempre il potere costituente è esercitato dal popolo. Avviene nei pacifici rivolgimenti e riordinamenti delle società costituite da secoli, che il potere, quale trovasi investito tradizionalmente della facoltà di far le leggi riconosca spontaneo i naturali diritti, su cui la società vuol essere basata, e si offra egli stesso, o volonterosamente, o aderendo al manifesto desiderio delle popolazioni, a sancire i principii del diritto naturale in una nuova costituzione, facendo parte del potere al popolo, e così riconoscendone la sovranità di diritto. Allora il popolo consente, ed accetta l’opera di questo potere costituente indiretto, che si riconosce rappresentante tacitamente delegato della sovranità nazionale , e ad essa fa ritorno».Footnote 111

The widest reconstruction upon the form of government will remain that one of Cesare Balbo , published posthumously in 1857, written between 1850 and 1851, entitled La monarchia rappresentativa. Footnote 112 The well-known author, after having established that the only possible forms of government were the republics and the representative monarchies, dedicated a detailed analysis as to the theories of sovereignty with the aim of identifying the «generating principle», the essence of the representative monarchy and the «instruments» via which the constituted powers divide sovereign power.Footnote 113 For Balbo , indeed, «sovereignty is the supreme problem of bearing the State in accordance with the laws and of changing these laws according to need» and the question was to pinpoint, through the analysis of the main theories in force, the place where sovereign power resided in the representative government .Footnote 114 Balbo concluded that

«la rappresentanza nazionale non risiede né può risiedere in nessuno dei tre poteri detti ma in tutti e tre; che nessuno di questi solo, ma tutti e tre si debbano chiamare parlamento; e che in questo Parlamento solo può e debba risedere la potenza del fare e disfare le leggi e di mutare la costituzione dello Stato»Footnote 115

For Balbo , the only possible theory on the topic of sovereignty was that of parliamentary omnipotence . From here, it should have been deduced that the constituent power was a «really dangerous theory» which would destroy the omnipotence of Parliament , rather, the idea of an assembly or a constituent power would be opposed to the abovementioned principle.Footnote 116 Briefly, sovereignty resided in the State.Footnote 117

These attempts of adapting the differing theories of sovereignty to the Italian case, including specific variations with regard to foreign experiences, can also be seen in Domenico Carutti who noticed how the idea of popular sovereignty was not wrong providing that it was purified of excesses and of false meanings which were attributed to it. Popular sovereignty meant

«signoria della pubblica opinione operante per mezzo degli uomini più capaci, a ciò deputati dal popolo».Footnote 118

Representative government is the sole form of perfect political government since «people and government are closely united in virtue of a tacit or explicit pact between he who assumes command and he who confers it or recognises it».Footnote 119 Representative government is the government of the best wherein public opinion finds a form of organisation:

«la sovranità s i ripartisce fra popolo e governo, ed è in ambidue inviolabile»Footnote 120

The theoretical reflections that till now, we have recalled, first and foremost, highlight that during the years of insertion of the representative government a thorough public law science develops.Footnote 121 The doctrine reflections concentrated both on the exegesis of the individual normative measures, but also on more refined doctrinal constructions. These theorisations were not always unequivocal, neither did they effectively explain the origin of legitimate power. Finally, doctrinal thoughts upon the form of representative government did not find an adequate parallel on the level of institutional praxis which was still confused and in the process of being perfected.

The formation of the first constitutional government was no easy thing. Federico Sclopis recounted that the King entrusted him with the task of conferring with Ministers Cesare Alfieri , Ottavio Thaon di Revel and Des Ambrois , in order to form a government . After the Ministers refused to take on the government office, the look turned to the figures that mostly stood out in the public law science among whom were: Cesare Balbo , Camillo Cavour and Riccardo Sineo . The choice fell upon Cesare Balbo , seeing that the two from Genoa, Lorenzo Pareto and Vincenzo Ricci , showed themselves to be intransigent on certain positions.Footnote 122 The first Cabinet was made up of Cesare Balbo (Prime Minister), Lorenzo Pareto (Minister of the Interior), Vincenzo Ricci (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Luigi Des Ambrois (Minister of Public Works), Ottavio Thaon di Revel (Minister of Finance), Antonio Franzini (Minister of War), Carlo Boncompagni (Minister for Education), and the same Federico Sclopis (Minister for Justice).

The subalpine Parliament was convened for the first time on 8th May 1848, in Palazzo Madama which was destined to be the seat of the Senate, following the parliamentary elections of 27th April in 204 single-member constituencies. The first parliamentary sitting opened with a speech by the Crown, pronounced on 8th May by the Prince of Carignano, Eugenio Emanuele of Savoy representing King Charles Albert who was engaged in battle. Having put his name forward to cover the office of the member of parliament Camillo Cavour , in the appeal to the voters of Vercelli on 12th April 1848, showed his trust in the constitutional monarchy ; the only one to be able to guarantee a rational development and improvements at a moral and economic level. Besides, the illustrious politician declared that

«lo Statuto sarà il nostro simbolo politico; ma lo Statuto considerato non solo come la consacrazione di molti, grandi e fecondi principi di libertà, ma altresì come il mezzo più efficace ed acconcio per introdurre nell’ordine economico e politico tutte le riforme, tutti i miglioramenti richiesti da provate esperienze o da incontestabili ragioni scientifiche, e tutti quelli ancora che il futuro rivelerà allo spirito indagatore dei popoli moderni».Footnote 123

The Statute was, once more, placed as foundation and legitimisation of the new political regime and constituted the basis for future progress, both as regards political and socio-economic levels. Nevertheless, in the initial years of implementation of the constitutional charter, the representative government had some difficulties in developing and even less could the Parliament consider itself the pivoting point of the system. Piedmont addressed its energies to the war effort and the same attention of the press was catalysed by events of foreign politics with ample reports from the battle fields. Till the first Premiership of Camillo Cavour and the union with the opposition, the true motor of the institutional system will remain the Crown.Footnote 124 The most proper category to qualify this first phase of the political regime is, rather, that of ‘Government of the King ’, to emphasise the link and the trust that the Cabinet should receive from the sovereign.

Given that the nature of the often extra-parliamentary crises and the uncertainty in identifying a true majority, the Crown was repeatedly in the condition of having to consider who was better able to guide the Cabinet and make itself accountable to Parliament . From this «the principle that the King ’s right and duty, in the changes of Ministry, far from being passive and automatic, is an active task» affirmed itself.Footnote 125 Therefore, the Crown found itself in the condition of carrying out political evaluations: it verified majorities and established if and when it turned to the country. Particularly the Savoy Court maintained its own range of action which went beyond the simple role of the ceremonial handbook and of administration of the royal estates. There was no lack of politicians, functionaries and soldiers who revolved around the King , stood up for the monarchical institution and carried on – independently or on behalf of the sovereign – a precise and ambiguous political activity which was parallel to and often in complete contrast to that of the Government .Footnote 126

The first four legislatures were characterised by political instability with a succession of government changes.Footnote 127 During the speech by the Crown for the second legislature, inaugurated on 1st February 1849, Charles Albert affirmed

«Il Governo costituzionale si aggira sopra due cardini: il Re ed il Popolo. Dal primo nasce l’unità e la forza, dal secondo la libertà e il progresso della Nazione ».Footnote 128

An alliance between King and people was therefore restated for the improvement of national conditions.

The image of the nation, born of the alliance between Sovereign and people, was also reiterated on the occasion of the discussion of the law on the forced loan. During parliamentary debate, Senator Albini , in defence of the full powers conceded to the Government , announced the rule that

«il parlamento pertanto congiuntamente al Re rappresenta la nazione ; riunisce in sé la sovranità nazionale ; può fare tutto quanto farebbe la nazione stessa se potesse esercitare da sé».Footnote 129

In this first period, the parliamentary institution being welcomed with initial grand enthusiasm, however, had difficulties cutting out spaces for itself with regard to the prerogatives of the Crown. Voices which underlined its limits and flaws were not lacking, rather, criticism of parliamentarianism runs incessantly since the promulgation of the Statute and was a constant of Italian constitutional history.Footnote 130 Rosmini , regarding parliamentarianism, expresses the following judgement:

«La politica astratta e perciò vaga ed indeterminata della Rivoluzione francese , la quale esercitò ed esercita tuttavia una specie di tirannide sulle menti, espresse un concetto confuso del Parlamento nazionale. Lo si concepisce come il più solenne de’ poteri, anzi il solo potere nazionale, senza farne alcuna analisi, senza accertarne gli uffici e così conoscere il vero e il preciso scopo. Si sa solamente in generale ch’egli è istituto per concorrere a formare le leggi. Ma quello che non si sa, e piuttosto quello che non si considera, si è, che le leggi da farsi sono di due maniere, altre che dichiarano ciò che è giusto ed ingiusto, altre che promuovono, tendono ad accrescere la pubblica prosperità. Anche queste seconde debbono essere giuste, ma il loro scopo non è la pura giustizia… Per le leggi d’utilità, il Parlamento è indispensabile e però questo è il vero e il proprio suo scopo. Quindi egli deve unire in sé gli elementi di tutta l’utilità, nessun interesse deve rimanere escluso. Non già che i deputati siano là per rappresentare gli interessi particolari, ma poiché l’interesse pubblico non risulta che dalla somma di tutti gli interessi privati, perciò l’interesse pubblico non può essere rappresentato a pieno se tutti gli interessi privati, grandi e piccoli non vi sono ad un tempo rappresentati».Footnote 131

In the words of Rosmini , the difficulty in transforming the Parliament into a national institution, in the sense of an organ able to mirror the interests of the entire community. The essay La Costituzione secondo la giustizia sociale wanted to be an alternative to the statute models which have affirmed themselves during the Risorgimento and, more generally, it must be noticed that in the thought of Antonio Rosmini , the revolutionary and Napoleonic charters were, anyway, to be refused for their inspiration principles and the enlightenment ideals on which they were based.Footnote 132

The Costituzione secondo la giustizia sociale was written by Rosmini in 1848, at the same time as the drafting of the Albertine Statute . The writer from Rovereto, however, had the chance of returning to the constitutional topics with a series of interventions entitled La Costituzione del Regno dell’Alta Italia which appeared in Il Risorgimento . The occasion of the writings was provided by the annexation of the Lombardy-Veneto Kingdom . The author specified that «a Constitution is the greatest work we can do: the most important of work: that which must bring order to all the nation, which providing it with the organism, it also gives it unity, life, existence. A Constitution is promulgated because it is perpetual, because a nation should never die».Footnote 133 Rosmini was also cautious on sovereign power in the hands of society, he was wary of empty constitutional formulas that could be easily bypassed and he cautioned against the various forms of government that could turn into despotisms. Such were the forms of government which had no solid basis of representation of interests. Leaving aside the concerns of Rosmini on parliamentarism, most Italian authors recognised the link between public opinion and representative government took shape.Footnote 134

Massimo D’Azeglio and the Defence of the Representative Government

In 1849 the national scene changed decisively. The events of the war with Austria had various consequences on an institutional level, so much so, that the same constitutional regime was at risk. Massimo D’Azeglio Tapanelli (1789–1866) assumed the leadership of the Cabinet in one of the most dramatic moments of the period when the Albertine Statute was in force.Footnote 135 In the famous Proposta d’un programma per l’opinione nazionale italiana (1847), the illustrious protagonist had already expressed the idea that the consent of public opinion is a necessary material force.Footnote 136 In other words, the idea that public opinion and consent expressed themselves in the representative government became manifest. According to the author, the people would suffer if the Statute , born out of the ideas of nationality, was going to be abandoned and moreover if the aristocracy’s influence was going to be restored. Nor would they like the despotism of King and of demagogy to be renewed.Footnote 137

In the government programme, D’Azeglio could better explicate his own political creed and the trust placed in the Constitutional regime. In a letter to Giovan Battista Giorgini, Massimo D’Azeglio affirmed:

«Comunque sia son deciso a salvar lo Statuto spinte o sponte, e perciò salvare il Piemonte che è il solo paese rimasto in piedi in Italia. Se ci riuscirò, credo che non sarò stato inutile super terram».Footnote 138

Also in a letter addressed to his wife Luisa Blondel, the Prime Minister showed his awareness of danger:

«Del resto è naturale che l’Austria farà di tutto per buttarmi giù. Capisce che non è Valerio che le fa male. Per me personalmente casco in piedi. Ma capisco che il paese cadrebbe in mano di chi rimetterebbe presto il buon tempo antico, e perciò sto a questo maledetto timore e mi sono messo in testa (seccato per seccato), di rimetterci la pelle o salvar quel poco che s’è guadagnato con tante tribolazioni».Footnote 139

In the attempt to defend the representative government , D’Azeglio looked for the approval of the foreign monarchies as well. Particularly, D’Azeglio had the approval of the British Government who encouraged the Italian Prime Minister to keep going along the constitutional path.Footnote 140

On 6th August 1849 the peace treaty with Austria was stipulated, this was quite unfavourable to Piedmont . The agreement was strongly criticised in Parliament . On 20th November, the Prime Minister, Massimo D’Azeglio , dissolved the Houses of parliament and Vittorio Emanuele II turned to the nation with the Moncalieri proclamation in which the most interesting piece was:

«I primi atti della Camera furono ostili alla Corona (…) Io firmava un trattato coll’Austria , onorevole e non rovinoso (…) I miei Ministri ne chiedevano l’assenso alla Camera, che, apponendovi una condizione, rendeva tale assenso inaccettabile, poiché distruggeva la reciproca indipendenza dei tre Poteri e violava così lo Statuto del Regno. Ho promesso di salvare la nazione dalla tirannia dei partiti, qualunque sia il nome, lo scopo, il grado degli uomini che li compongono. Questa promessa, questo giuramento li adempio disciogliendo una Camera divenuta impossibile, li adempio convocandone un’altra immediatamente».Footnote 141

With the Moncalieri proclamation and the return to the polls, Massimo D’Azeglio saved the representative government guaranteeing it would be a long and a prosperous one.

Towards National Unification

The end of the D’Azeglio Cabinet was extra-parliamentary and its end was essentially caused by the opposition to laws on marriage coming from certain clerical circles and from the sovereign, Vittorio Emanuele II . A new phase of the representative government was signalled by the figure of Camillo Cavour who strongly believed in the parliamentary form .Footnote 142 The statesman will, uninterruptedly, hold the office of cabinet chief from 1852 till his death on 6th June 1861.Footnote 143 Being in charge of the Cabinet, Cavour tried to contain the influences of the royal court, removing some men who were faithful to the Crown from the institutions. It was a matter of changes in the crucial offices and roles which were not sudden or radical, but followed the path taken by his predecessor.Footnote 144

Following the Second War of Independence , the Kingdom of Sardinia acquired Lombardy and, through the procedure of annexation and plebiscite , Tuscany , Parma , Modena and Emilia Romagna . The unification process ended on the 4th November 1860 with the annexation plebiscites in the Marche and Umbria .Footnote 145 The plebiscites assumed a character of a posteriori legitimisation and were instrumental in that they had the aim of confirming monarchical choices which were sustained by the liberals. It resorted to universal suffrage in order to give the utmost importance to the consensus, but it returned in a restricted suffrage (based on census) when it came to elect members of the national parliament.Footnote 146 It was before a dual level of legitimation : the consent of the people was the instrument to justify the unification process, however for the liberal movement , the people could not be the source of legitimation of the ruling class in Parliament .Footnote 147 As Alberto Caracciolo perceived, during the process of national unification there was still the will of having the Parliament as foundation of the national edifice.Footnote 148 The role of the organ legitimising the new State entity was reserved to Parliament . Once more Cavour ’s ideas weighed on this. In a letter to the Countess of Circourt, Count Cavour affirmed that the parliamentary way is the longest but the safest way.Footnote 149 Parliament remained a place of expression of national public opinion. Against those who highlighted the risk of the parliamentary way, the statesman could say with conviction:

«Io non me ne spavento, la lotta è una necessità del governo costituzionale; dove non v’è lotta, non v’è vita, non vi è progresso: quando ogni discussione avesse a cessare, io potrei lasciare la politica e ritirarmi in campagna a piantar cavoli».Footnote 150

To choose the parliamentary road meant primarily to want the parliament as a place of discussion, control, censorship and consensus. According to Cavour , only with the concurrence of parliament could Italy retain the sympathy of the European governments and public opinion, and could guarantee freedom in the process of national unification:

«Il miglior modo di dimostrare quanto il paese sia alieno dal dividere le teorie del Mazzini si è di lasciare al Parlamento liberissima facoltà di censura e di controllo. Al voto favorevole, che sarà sancito dalla grande maggioranza dei deputati, darà al Ministero un’autorità morale di gran lunga superiore ad ogni dittatura». […].

Ora non vi ha altro modo di raggiungere questo scopo, che di attingere dal concorso del Parlamento la sola forza morale capace di vincere le sette, e di conservare le simpatie dell’Europa liberale».Footnote 151

Finally, making Parliament the cornerstone of the constitutional order was tantamount to preventing Italy from falling into the hands of monarchical or democratic despotism. However, the longevity of the Statute contributed, if nothing else, to legitimate the representative government . If in the initial phase many underlined the anachronism, the incompleteness, the inadequacy of the text and the lack of democratic nature of the constitutional Charter, in the following period these characters became a strong point which guaranteed its survival over time.

«Il nostro Statuto al confronto delle mutate leggi fondamentali di tutto il continente europeo è uno dei più antichi monumenti del diritto pubblico interno degli Stati: così che dopo il breve giro di quattro anni può considerarsi sanzionato dal tempo».Footnote 152

The abovementioned affirmations were first of all spurred by the observation of the French experience characterised by political-constitutional instability. Indeed, Italian public law science noted that in France , after the republican experience of 1848, a new constitutional charter with a presidential imprint (14th January 1852) had been promulgated and added itself to the already numerous constitutional texts and drafts. The Albertine Statute was considered well-grounded even if compared with the Italian constitutionalism of 1848–1849 which proved to be ephemeral. Moreover, the same democratic movement could only recognise that the Savoy Monarchy was one of the most long-lived in Europe and could by now boast a sound tradition. Within the left wing of Parliament , voices that hypothesised putting the republican idea to one side for a while in order to follow the path of national unification under the coat of arms of the Savoy dynasty which was the only one of Italian origin in the Peninsula were not lacking.

On the eve of national unification, on the pages of the newspaper the La Nazione , it was still affirmed with a certain pride that:

«intanto noi abbiamo a vantaggio della nostra tesi un atto innegabile: ed è che la costituzione albertina ha fatto buona prova di sè durante dodici anni; che è per essa e per la religiosa osservanza che ne ebbero un re (il quale perciò fu gratificato da’ popoli italiani dell’appellativo galantuomo) e i vari parlamenti che si succedettero, che noi siamo giunti al punto in cui ora ci troviamo; che quello Statuto fu per noi l’arca santa della libertà; che contro quello Statuto non sorse mai dubbio ne’ popoli nostri».Footnote 153

For the liberal moderate party , tradition and the capacity of survival of the representative government under the protection of the Monarchy were points of strength, a sure thing which should not be left. The unification process of 1859–1861 sharpened, however, old disputes which developed the day after the granting of the Statute , again bringing the questions concerning the constituent power and the necessity to convene a national assembly to the fore. For example, in the pages of democratic newspapers it could be read that

«il presente parlamento accolto in Torino, non solo dall’impero dei plebisciti , non solo dagli antecedenti democratici creatori del nuovo ordine di cose, ma dalla natura stessa delle questioni sull’ordinamento interno, che pur fa d’uopo risolvere, è fatalmente condotto a dichiarare la sua incompetenza, e dar luogo all’assemblea eletta a voto universale con autorità fondatrice di Statuto . Le questioni dell’ordinamento interno si collegano ai principi costituzionali del Regno, e i principi costituzionali non si possono riformare, se non per esplicita delegazione di sovranità nazionale ».Footnote 154

These pages summarise some of the themes of the democratic unitary movement which had its own impulse from the programmes elaborated among the exiles in centres situated outside the Peninsula. To this idea concerning popular legitimisation, Mazzini who forever had expressed the necessity of a constituent assembly contributed much:

«Chi può rilevare il pensiero nazionale? La Nazione . Come può rilevarlo? Per mezzo de’ suoi rappresentanti. Come può la nazione costituire i propri rappresentanti? Delegandoli coll’elezione. Quale deve essere l’elezione? Quella del suffragio universale, uniforme, libero. Il popolo si raccoglie nelle assemblee primarie e vota: il popolo tutto quanto, dacchè altrimenti l’elezione non rileva il pensiero nazionale, ma una frazione di quel pensiero. E i delegati della nazione costituiscono un congresso nazionale, una Costituente . Essa stende il Patto Nazionale: lo sottomette all’approvazione del popolo: poi si riconfonde in seno al paese».Footnote 155

According to Mazzini , the Constituent assembly was a political tool of legitimisation, the sole act able to transform the nation into a legal entity. Any other way was, instead, usurpation. In compliance with this, he said that every nationality requires a common principle and

«spetta alla costituzione nazionale il definire questo principio, e regolarne le norme; come è ufficio d’un governo nazionale il promuovere e dirigere le manifestazioni, associando sempre più i cittadini nell’intento comune».Footnote 156

In the end, the Italian Kingdom was born under the weight of ambiguities. Legitimisation went through plebiscites and the parliament which gathered the representatives of the new nation.


On 18th February 1861, the first Parliament of Italy sat at Turin and thus the eighth legislature was opened. The Statute was extended to the Kingdom of Italy , which was proclaimed on 17th March and.Footnote 157 On 23rd March, the first government was constituted which was headed by Cavour (4th Government).Footnote 158 Vittorio Emanuele II was proclaimed king «by the grace of God, by the will of the nation».Footnote 159 At the end of the unification process, Pasquale Castagna , in his commentary to the Italian Statute was able to affirm that

«legittimo è ogni potere liberamente accettato. Legittimo il Sabaudo e il Napoleoide; chè il volere parlato con il plebiscito è forma ottima di volontà popolare».Footnote 160

While, the representative monarchical government is that where the people retaining sovereignty for themselves, delegate its exercise to many powers or political bodies, which must be maintained in harmony by a hereditary head who is the king .Footnote 161 The debate on legitimisation of power and on the nature and exercise of sovereign power was deeply embedded in public discourse on representative government , which was entrusted to journalists, intellectuals, politicians and jurists. Nevertheless, these debates have to be placed within the process of unification and connected with debates surrounding construction of national identity. All this complicates the framework of our analysis further, the Risorgimento movement being divided into various, different contrasting streams (democrats, republicans, liberals , conservatives) worrying to underline every lacking of the other.Footnote 162 The absolute power of the sovereign had been circumscribed by the gracious concession of the Constitution which, as has been seen, was generic on the origin of legitimate power, and was lacking every definition of sovereignty as well. On the other hand, the expression ‘representative government ’ is a formula which assumes different meanings according to the socio-political moment wherein it is considered. Only constant application and public debate will attribute ever more weight to Parliament . Also, the relationship between Monarch and Parliament is not stable, but is in continuous movement. The parliamentary system establishes itself only in the second phase and will never be complete. In the first phase of the Albertine Statute we must speak, rather, of a «King ’s Government». The theory of the «omnipotence of Parliament » is a corrective between the monarchical principle and the excesses of popular sovereignty . Moreover, the metaphor of the pact between sovereign and people contributed to legitimising the new constitutional regime. There will not be ideal models to determine the organisation and the exercise of the sovereign power . The lesson of Cavour as regards the centrality of parliament was clearly evident, but the legacy of the Risorgimento is unclear, in that it contains both disdain of the parliamentary system and its appreciation.Footnote 163

Finally, sovereignty is not concentrated only in one place and the constituent power lies in the nation represented in Parliament .Footnote 164 According to Augusto Pierantoni

«il potere costituente adunque è fatto per lo svolgimento delle libertà, e non per la loro riduzione. Noi sinora lo abbiamo esaminato senza confonderlo con la sovranità nazionale … Il portare opinione, come fanno moltissimi pubblicisti, che il potere costituente sia la stessa società sovrana operante, condurrebbe a questa conseguenza, che nessuno potrebbe avere il diritto di reclamare contro gli errori e le violazioni che la società avesse commessi nella sua violazione. Invece egli è vero che il potere costituente deve emanare direttamente dalla nazione , ma non può dirsi che sia la nazione stessa, la quale resta sempre inviolabile innanzi di lui con la facoltà di non riconoscerne l’azione, se eccessiva, e con l’autorità di poterlo richiamare al mancato ufficio».Footnote 165

Pierantoni admitted the rational distinction between the legislative and constituent power , but the constituent power survived inside the legislative power and the theory of the omnipotence of parliament consented in authorizing the legislator to amend, modify and correct the provisions contained in the articles. We need to wait for the national school of public law to reach a thorough layout and definition of concepts like ‘Government’ and ‘Sovereignty’. The description of the parliamentary government by Vittorio Emanuele Orlando will be emblematic. He, after having exposed his juridical theory of the Cabinet Government, that is a theory distilled of all political, historical and philosophical contamination, was able affirm that popular sovereignty is rendered concrete within the government . In this sense, the Government, meant in the wider sense of ‘State’, is considered as an element which integrates the idea of sovereignty ».Footnote 166

Certainly, the patrimony of ideas, debates and concepts worked out during the subalpine period will not go lost with national unification. Savoy Monarchy will be one of the political protagonists of the new phase and will act as favourable condition for the development of the new regime on a parliamentary basis. Nevertheless, in a constitutional legal order in continual evolution, the Monarchy will not, and cannot, be the only legal tool to interpret the feelings of public opinion. It is for sure that from Cavour onwards, the conviction that the Parliament was the interpreter of public opinion and that it is not possible to govern without its consent, was distinctly manifested. In this context and on these conditions, we recognise that Parliament is «the only and whole and perpetual representation of national sovereignty »,Footnote 167 «the authority of the Parliament is absolute, unlimited, undefined; it does not recognise any other boundary to its power but physical and moral laws of nature»,Footnote 168 «in Parliament it is sovereignty, in Parliament it is the nation, in Parliament it is the very Constitution of the country».Footnote 169 The questions about the “constituent power ” and the “Constituent Assembly ” are absorbed in the debate on the powers and limits of legislative power. The Parliament was charged with the constituent function and was considered “perpetual Constituent”. The history of the rationalisation of the system is however another one, often far away from the expectations of the intellectuals, having to face the effective reality of the country.

Summary (Italian)

Il presente contributo vuole indagare la legittimazione del governo rappresentativo nel Piemonte subalpino. Il saggio propone alcune riflessioni che mettono insieme il dato normativo con la prassi costituzionale, il dibattito pubblico e le trattazioni giuridiche. Lo scopo è mostrare alcune rappresentazioni che la collettività ha della Costituzione.

Con l’avvento dei regimi rappresentativi si affermava l’idea che il sistema costituzionale funzionava quanto più c’era sintonia tra le istituzioni e l’opinione pubblica. Il tema del consenso e della legittimazione era questione fondamentale.

Dopo la rivoluzione francese, la Monarchia affrontava il difficile passaggio da una forma di legittimazione dinastica a una nuova di tipo nazional-rappresentativa, ponendo in essere strategie orientate a ripensare i tradizionali fondamenti della sovranità. Spazi, rituali e simboli della politica tradizionale dovevano confrontarsi con l’affermazione delle assemblee rappresentative. Dall’altro lato, i Parlamenti dovevano relazionarsi con il potere regio e dovevano ritagliarsi degli spazi propri di autonomia, trovare formule in grado di legittimarsi come realtà rappresentative d’interessi comuni.

In Italia un lessico politico-costituzionale si forma assai tardi. Uno studio sulle fonti di legittimazione e sulla sovranità deve tener conto della fluidità del linguaggio politico, nonché della difficile e lenta formulazione di concetti giuridici. Il dibattito sulla legittimazione del potere e sulla natura ed esercizio della sovranità si intrecciava col discorso pubblico sul governo rappresentativo .

Lo Statuto Albertino sterilizzava la sovranità popolare e il potere costituente, evitandone ogni riferimento. La sovranità regia era la sola fonte della legittimità politica e l’auctoritas risiedeva nella persona del monarca. A circoscrivere il potere assoluto del sovrano era stata la concessione graziosa della Costituzione. Il principio monarchico non fu, però, inteso in senso assolutistico, come nella Charte francese del 1814, che racchiudeva l’autorità suprema nella persona del Re, ma nel significato più moderno di una monarchia che attraverso la concessione della costituzione si vincolava in modo pieno ed irrevocabile ad essa.

Al di là della laconicità dello Statuto, nel periodo successivo alla concessione dello Statuto Albertino si creavano alchimie lessicali proprie della tradizione costituzionale italiana. Nella prima parte dello scritto si analizzano i significati delle espressioni “sovranità” e “governo rappresentativo ” attraverso dizionari, il catechismo politico di Michelangelo Castelli e Briano e i giornali. In particolare i giornali furono il principale luogo ove si sviluppava una moderna opinione pubblica critica ed attenta. Dalle colonne dei quotidiani non veniva mai meno il tentativo di popolarizzare il nuovo regime politico.

Lo Statuto, per la sua natura di Charte octroyée, era debole sotto il profilo della legittimazione. I primi osservatori della costituzione notavano immediatamente la mancanza di democraticità che si esprimeva attraverso il potere costituente e la sovranità. In questo contesto, numerosi furono i tentativi per colmare questo vuoto. Tra le varie idee che prendevano piede vi era quella che vedeva nello Statuto un patto o un accordo tra Sovrano e popolo. Inoltre, da subito circolava la teoria dell’onnipotenza parlamentare . Questa teoria era usata per allontanare lo spettro del potere costituente ed era utilizzata come correttivo tra il principio monarchico e gli eccessi della sovranità popolare.

Preso atto che la Statuto è un atto politico del Re, i liberali concentrarono la propria attenzione sulla rappresentanza rendendosi conto che sotto questo profilo si giocava una delle partite più importanti. In Piemonte, il parlamento non era certo rappresentativo della sovranità popolare, essendo costituito dal Senato di nomina regia e una camera eletta su base censitaria. L’articolo 41 dello Statuto Albertino recitava: «I deputati rappresentano la Nazione in generale, e non le sole provincie in cui furono eletti. Nessun mandato rappresentativo imperativo può darsi dagli Elettori». Sebbene su base censitaria, nell’immaginario collettivo la presenza elettiva qualificava l’intero ordinamento rendendolo finalmente “nazionale”. La rappresentanza era considerata un elemento genetico del nuovo ordinamento, qualificato come ‘governo monarchico-rappresentativo’. Attraverso la convivenza tra principio monarchico e principio rappresentativo si stabiliva che la base della sovranità risiedeva oltre che nella Corona nella Nazione politicamente rappresentata.

Nei primi anni del governo rappresentativo si sviluppava un’accurata pubblicistica sulla forma di governo e l’esercizio della sovranità. Queste teorizzazioni non sempre erano univoche né spiegavano effettivamente l’origine del potere legittimo. In ultimo, le riflessioni dottrinali sulla forma di governo rappresentativo non trovavano un’adeguata corrispondenza sul piano della prassi istituzionale che era ancora confusa e in fase di perfezionamento.

In una prima fase l’istituzione parlamentare, accolta con un grande entusiasmo iniziale, aveva delle difficoltà a ritagliarsi spazi propri rispetto alle prerogative della Corona. Solo l’applicazione costante e il dibattito pubblico attribuirono sempre più peso al Parlamento. Inoltre, i rapporti tra Monarca e Parlamento non furono stabili, ma in continuo movimento.

Una nuova fase del governo rappresentativo fu segnata dalla figura di Camillo Cavour che credeva fortemente nella forma parlamentare. In questa seconda fase la longevità dello Statuto contribuiva a legittimare il governo rappresentativo . Se nella fase iniziale si sottolineava da più parti l’anacronismo, la lacunosità, l’inadeguatezza del testo e l’assenza di democraticità del testo costituzionale, in un secondo periodo questi caratteri diventarono punti di forza che ne avevano garantirono la sopravvivenza nel tempo. L’Unificazione nazionale si concretizzava sotto il peso delle ambiguità. La legittimazione passava attraverso i plebisciti e il nuovo parlamento che raccoglieva i rappresentati della nuova nazione. Di certo il patrimonio d’idee, i dibattiti e i concetti elaborati durante il periodo subalpino non andranno persi con l’unificazione nazionale.

La Monarchia Sabauda era uno dei protagonisti politici della nuova fase e costituiva condizione favorevole per lo sviluppo del nuovo regime su base parlamentare. Tuttavia, in un ordinamento costituzionale in continua evoluzione, la Monarchia non poteva essere l’unico strumento legale per interpretare i sentimenti dell’opinione pubblica. Certo è che da Cavour in poi si manifestava distintamente la convinzione che il Parlamento fosse interprete dell’opinione pubblica e non si poteva governare senza il consenso di questa. Tuttavia, non mancarono voci che individuavano limiti del parlamentarismo, anzi la critica correva ininterrottamente dalla promulgazione dello Statuto e fu una costante della storia costituzionale italiana