Mr. Marsh to Mr. Seward.

No. 173]

Sir : The ministerial modification, of which I spoke in my last despatch as a possible contingency, has taken place much sooner than was anticipated. The composition of the cabinet as newly organized is not at this moment publicly known, but it will probably be announced, together with the political programme of the government, in the official gazette of Monday next. It is certain that Ricasoli remains at the head of the administration, at least for the present. [Page 606]This circumstance will tend to allay political agitation, for, in spite of the unpopularity of the financial and ecclesiastical policy of the late ministry, and of its action in regard to the right of assemblage for public discussion, Baron Ricasoli certainly enjoys the personal confidence of a larger proportion of his country-men than any other conspicuous Italian statesman.

The immediate occasion of the prorogation of parliament, and finally of the dissolution of the late chamber of deputies, as well as of the resignation of several ministers, events doubtless already known to you through the telegraph, was the action of the government in suppressing meetings called for the purpose of discussing the measures proposed by the ministry upon the great question of the relations between church and state in connection with the finances. A resolution equivalent to a declaration of a want of confidence in the ministry was carried in the chambers by a decided majority, and the prorogation followed immediately after. I enclose a slip from a journal containing the debate on this question, which, as you will perceive, is, in some respects, of a remarkable as well as unexpected character. The recent discourse of the Emperor Napoleon has excited a good deal of feeling in Italy, because it is the first occasion on which he has pronounced himself unequivocally in favor of maintaining the temporal power of the Papacy. I forward by this post a copy of two Italian journals of the 16th of this month, one of which, the Nazione, is generally understood to be semi-official, the other strongly in the French interest, both containing editorial articles on this subject. The construction given by the latter to the passages of the imperial discourse which refer to the relations between Rome and Italy, is not, I imagine, by any means an authorized interpretation, but is simply adopted to ward off the unfavorable impressions which these passages, taken in their most obvious sense, could not fail to produce on the Italian people.

It is worthy of remark that the political excitement in Italy has produced little effect on the price of government funds, and none at all on that of gold, which scarcely commands five per cent, premium. It is evident, therefore, that capitalists do not regard the present crisis as threatening any serious derangement of the finance or the currency.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Debate on the Venetian meetings.

We publish in full, from the minutes, the speech of Mr. Cairoli, with Mr. Rieasoli’s reply, in the session of the 11th of February.

The President. The election returns are properly the order of the day ; but as the minister of the interior says he is ready to reply to Messrs. Cairoli and Be Beni, with leave of the house, I will give Mr. Caroli the floor.

Mr. Cairoli. I will make no apology for myself and colleague, Mr. De Beni, on proposing to discuss the question now before the house. I know the aversion you have to debates, for they are generally nothing more than criminations and blame without any good result ; but when the violation of a law is in question, when our liberties are endangered, then it is our duty to fly to the rescue of principles dear to all of us, without regard to party.

I regret that Venetia has furnished the sad theme for this discussion. The authorities there have prohibited the exercise of a dear right in those provinces that have been restored to the family of Italy, after along and glorious martyrdom ; and it has been done in the name of the government.

I will not proclaim the right of public meetings, as all know their benefits. They educate the people, they tell the government its wants, they spread public opinion, they discuss what is legal, and the people are not forced to take refuge in the secrecy of conspiracies. The privilege of popular assemblies is an inalienable right sanctioned by the laws of all constitutional governments ; by England, Belgium, France, and especially by article XXXII of [Page 607]our own statate. Now this right, precise as an axiom, not subject to many interpretations, was violated by Venetia, in the dawn of her liberty, through a law that had for a title, liberty of the church, while Ricasoli was minister.

I will give the particulars, as I heard them yesterday : A meeting was called in Venice to consider that law. A committee invited the deputies of that city to attend. The civil authorities forbid the posting of the call, and prohibited the meeting. The committee insisted on their right to assemble, but the keys of Malibran theatre, where the meeting was to take place, were secured by the authorities.

The prefect of Padua, as soon as he heard of the meeting, issued an order, which I will read :

“ Notice of a public meeting appeared, in the journal of the 30th, to assemble in the theatre on the 10th instant, for the purpose of protesting against a bill presented in the chamber of deputies by the minister, to regulate the relations between church and state.

“ Under present circumstances the royal government sees danger in these popular assemblies of undue excitement and disorder.

“ Therefore, the local authorities advise the promoters of the meeting not to carry out their designs, for fear of exciting a clamor on a serious question that will soon be settled by the legislative assembly.

“ The authorities hope the citizens, in respect for their parliament, and for the sake of peace, will refrain from such demonstration, and thus prevent the unpleasant necessity of resorting to force to prevent them.”

Thus you see this precious right of making known the people’s will, in a legal and peaceful manner, is only allowed when there is no use for it, and on trivial questions that are not to be heard in the house. Such an interpretation is equivalent to annulling the article, as it is entirely at the mercy of a small prefect.

The rights of civil officials are prescribed by the laws for public safety. They can watch over popular assemblies ; can break them up when public order is disturbed ; but under no pretext have they the right to prevent the meetings. Are there indications of any such disturbance in Venetia ?

Against this misinterpretation of the local authorities in Venetia I will quote the words of the president of the council, proving that article XXXII of the statute not only sanctions the absolute right for all kinds of public meetings, both transitory and permanent. In the first place, he shows that in Piedmont the restrictive laws in regard to the right of assemblies had been abolished. They were never violated in that little subalpine kingdom, not even while the Austrians were camped on the Ticino. When the state council was questioned in regard to the laws of public assemblies, it answered that it was the duty of a free government to watch over its people, but not to restrain them. And the president of the council continues thus: “ Although the preventive system may not be suited to a free country, it is certainly proper in a despotic government. A free government should always have the power at hand to suppress evils in time, for abuses will exist ; but if this power is made use of to restrain liberty, the nation is endangered, and liberty is gone.

“ The first duty of a free government is to correct, but not to prevent the public expression of opinion. Thus by lawful means that liberty which has been lately replanted in Italy may be made to flourish.

“ I am interested in that public spirit now felt all over Italy, for it is my duty to care for the country ; and how can I do that, unless I know the sentiments and wishes of its people ?”

Mr. Depretis, now minister of marine, added these memorable words: “In treating of political rights, or the exercise of those rights, the power of the legislator is limited to the regulation of that exercise of rights, but in a free country he cannot prevent it legally. All agree on this maxim, which is a principle of free legislation.” [Applause.]

Finally, Ricasoli’s proposed resolution was taken into consideration by the unanimous consent of the house. After that session he withdrew from Parliament, and left the pleasant memory of that honest and loyal profession of faith which was applauded even by his adversaries. How I hope he will remember those words, and not repent of them.

The President. The minister of the interior is now entitled to the floor.

Ricasoli, minister of the interior. I cannot blame the acts of the prefects, for they obeyed instructions from the interior department. The quotation, by Mr. Cairoli, of my former words, shows that questions of liberty or right are not now in discussion. The question is of particular events, of which the person who has the care of public order must give an account.

The house will decide. The government is conscious of the importance of rights belonging to citizens by virtue of our institutions. I am as careful of these rights as any one, as I am their proper guardian. Article 32 of the statute, granting the right of meeting peacefully and unarmed, regulates that right by law. As there is no special law to determine the manner of exercising that right, it must be subject to general laws that regulate public safety.

If, on the one hand, the statute grants to citizens the right of assembling according to law, many other laws instruct the government, and particularly the minister of the interior, to prevent the disturbance of public order, and to suppress any meeting that might endanger the safety of the state, within or without. Since my first speech on that subject in this house, a code of laws has been formed which specify the manner in which these meetings and assemblages may take place. The government, the legislature, and courts of justice [Page 608]have all decided the limits of the exercise of this right, as long as there was no special law for it; and it is the duty of the government towards Parliament and the country to preserve public order and to judge at any time whether these public meetings are dangerous to the peace or not.

Yes, I repeat it, in matters of public safety the government must be the judge, and the only judge, for the government is responsible.

Mr. Miceli. Those are Russian theories.

The Minister continues : They are facts. I cannot remain in a place where I am not permitted to follow the dictates of my head and heart for the good of the country. The house can act as it will, but I know my duty to the country. [Good.]

This principle is universally acknowledged—that when a right is not regulated by special laws it is subject to the common law, and the government is responsible for all disturbances or harm that arise from an abuse of that right ; and in matters of public safety the government is to judge of what may be hurtful of public order or dangerous to the safety of the state, I am now governed by those same principles, solemnly approved by the legislature and formed into a code of laws. As soon as I learned that public meetings were to be called throughout Italy, for the purpose of censuring the taxes, of convincing the people of the necessity of the distribution of the church property among the communers and provinces of defending the liberty of the church, I calmly considered what part I should take, as minister of the interior, to do myduty in maintaining peace and order.

I have watched over the whole of Italy, and when I saw a ferment everywhere, dissatisfaction among the laboring classes, suffering from hunger in many places, the people in present want, doubtful about the future, I did not doubt my duty to do what I thought best for the country, and I despatched instructions by telegraph to all parts of the kingdom. I could make no distinction between cities. I could not subject Venetia alone to the regulation. I was obliged to look over the whole country, and decide, from the general condition of the country, what was best to be done. Perceiving the crisis that threatened the nation, on the 2d of February I sent this telegram, which I will read, because I desire to be judged by this house with full cognizance of my acts ; I will not be a public minister if I am not supported by Parliament, and cannot do my duty according lo my convictions and in conformity with my patriotism.

This telegram, based upon the ideas of the circular of the 15th of November, declared in a solemn and formal manner that the Roman question could not be discussed in public meetings.

I believed that my opinions and convictions were approved by this house and the country.

Here is the substance of the telegram in substance :

“The minister, insisting on the ideas expressed in the circular of the 15th of November, reiterates the instructions to prevent public meetings by suasion if possible; if not, to use force in this province.

“If the proposed meeting is on account of the Roman question, it must be prevented as stated in the circular ; if on account of taxes or division of church property or legislative acts, all good citizens must know that such meetings, by exciting the people’s passions, may cause serious disturbances of public order, under present circumstances, and that such questions are to be discussed in Parliament and not in the public squares. If the meeting is for other purposes the authorities will endeavor to put off the assemblage and telegraph to the department for further instructions.”

Thus, with due regard to the dispositions of the statute granting the right of public assemblages, I intended the order to prohibit only meetings to discuss certain questions. I have as much respect for personal liberty as any one. Now, I ask this house if, under present circumstances, while the whole country is agitated, after the sad instances of riot and disorder in public meetings, it is not the duty of the minister of the interior to take into serious consideration the convocation of popular assemblies? I am conscious of having done my duty. I think what I have done will settle difficulties and prevent future disturbances ; it will keep order in the country, if it does not satisfy the people. Acting differently would foment disturbances, though intending to promote quiet, and might produce serious consequences, considering the present state of excitement in the minds of the people. And I will add, that it is dangerous to trust such a delicate subject as the relations between the church and the state to the incoherent declamations of public meetings. Now, this question is discussed at present in the house, and we must remember that, on matters purely ecclesiastical, an envoy of the government is at this moment negotiating in Rome, and it would be neither respectful nor expedient to interrupt these attempts to settle great questions.

I repeat, then, gentlemen, that I am conscious of having fulfilled my obligations towards the state ; I have done my duty, after serious meditation, after attentive examination, and I am perfectly satisfied with the justice of my conduct.

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