CRISPI, FRANCESCO (1819-1901), Italian statesman, was born at Ribéra in Sicily on the 4th of October 1819. In 1846 he established himself as advocate at Naples. On the outbreak of the Sicilian revolution at Palermo (January 12, 1848) he hastened to the island and took an active part in guiding the insurrection. Upon the restoration of the Bourbon government (May 15, 1849) he was excluded from the amnesty and compelled to flee to Piedmont. Here he unsuccessfully applied for a situation as communal secretary of Verolengo, and eked out a penurious existence by journalism. Implicated in the Mazzinian conspiracy at Milan (February 6, 1853), he was expelled from Piedmont, and obliged to take refuge at Malta, whence he fled to Paris. Expelled from France, he joined Mazzini in London, and continued to conspire for the redemption of Italy. On the 15th of June 1859 he returned to Italy after publishing a letter repudiating the aggrandizement of Piedmont, and proclaiming himself a republican and a partisan of national unity. Twice in that year he went the round of the Sicilian cities in disguise, and prepared the insurrectionary movement of 1860.
Upon his return to Genoa he organized, with Bertani, Bixio, Medici and Garibaldi, the expedition of the Thousand, and overcoming by a stratagem the hesitation of Garibaldi, secured the departure of the expedition on the 5th of May 1860. Disembarking at Marsala on the 11th, Crispi on the 13th, at Salemi, drew up the proclamation whereby Garibaldi assumed the dictatorship of Sicily, with the programme: "Italy and Victor Emmanuel." After the fall of Palermo, Crispi was appointed minister of the interior and of finance in the Sicilian provisional government, but was shortly afterwards obliged to resign on account of the struggle between Garibaldi and the emissaries of Cavour with regard to the question of immediate annexation. Appointed secretary to Garibaldi, Crispi secured the resignation of Depretis, whom Garibaldi had appointed pro-dictator, and would have continued his fierce opposition to Cavour at Naples, where he had been placed by Garibaldi in the foreign office, had not the advent of the Italian regular troops and the annexation of the Two Sicilies to Italy brought about Garibaldi's withdrawal to Caprera and Crispi's own resignation. Entering parliament in 1861 as deputy of the extreme Left for Castelvetrano, Crispi acquired the reputation of being the most aggressive and most impetuous member of the republican party. In 1864, however, he made at the chamber a monarchical profession of faith, in the famous phrase afterwards repeated in his letter to Mazzini: "The monarchy unites us; the republic would divide us." In 1860 he refused to enter the Ricasoli cabinet; in 1867 he worked to impede the Garibaldian invasion of the papal states, foreseeing the French occupation of Rome and the disaster of Mentana. By methods of the same character as those subsequently employed against himself by Cavallotti, he carried on the violent agitation known as the Lobbia affair, in which sundry conservative deputies were, on insufficient grounds, accused of corruption. On the outbreak of the Franco-German War he worked energetically to impede the projected alliance with France, and to drive the Lanza cabinet to Rome. The death of Ratazzi in 1873 induced Crispi's friends to put forward his candidature to the leadership of the Left; but Crispi, anxious to reassure the crown, secured the election of Depretis. After the advent of the Left he was elected (November 1876) president of the chamber. During the autumn of 1877 he went to London, Paris and Berlin on a confidential mission, establishing cordial personal relationships with Gladstone, Granville and other English statesmen, and with Bismarck.
In December 1877 he replaced Nicotera as minister of the interior in the Depretis cabinet, his short term of office (70 days) being signalized by a series of important events. On January 9, 1878, the death of Victor Emmanuel and the accession of King Humbert enabled Crispi to secure the formal establishment of a unitary monarchy, the new monarch taking the title of Humbert I. of Italy instead of Humbert IV. of Savoy. The remains of Victor Emmanuel were interred in the Pantheon instead of being transported to the Savoy Mausoleum at Superga. On the 9th of February, 1879, the death of Pius IX. necessitated a conclave, the first to be held after the unification of Italy. Crispi, helped by Mancini and Cardinal Pecci (afterwards Leo XIII.), persuaded the Sacred College to hold the conclave in Rome, and prorogued the chamber lest any untoward manifestation should mar the solemnity of the event. The statesmanlike qualities displayed on this occasion were unavailing to avert the storm of indignation conjured up by Crispi's opponents in connexion with a charge of bigamy not susceptible of legal proof. Crispi was compelled to resign office, although the judicial authorities upheld the invalidity of his early marriage, contracted at Malta in 1853, and ratified his subsequent union with Signora Barbagallo. For nine years Crispi remained politically under a cloud, but in 1887 returned to office as minister of the interior in the Depretis cabinet, succeeding to the premiership upon the death of Depretis (July 29, 1887).
One of his first acts as premier was a visit to Bismarck, whom he desired to consult upon the working of the Triple Alliance. Basing his foreign policy upon the alliance, as supplemented by the naval entente with Great Britain negotiated by his predecessor, Count Robilant, Crispi assumed a resolute attitude towards France, breaking off the prolonged and unfruitful negotiations for a new Franco-Italian commercial treaty, and refusing the French invitation to organize an Italian section at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. At home Crispi secured the adoption of the Sanitary and Commercial Codes, and reformed the administration of justice. Forsaken by his Radical friends, Crispi governed with the help of the Right until, on the 31st of January 1891, an intemperate allusion to the sante memorie of the conservative party led to his overthrow. In December 1893 the impotence of the Giolitti cabinet to restore public order, then menaced by disturbances in Sicily and in Lunigiana, gave rise to a general demand that Crispi should return to power. Upon resuming office he vigorously suppressed the disorders, and steadily supported the energetic remedies adopted by Sonnino, minister of finance, to save Italian credit, which had been severely shaken by the bank and financial crises of 1892-1893. Crispi's uncompromising suppression of disorder, and his refusal to abandon either the Triple Alliance or the Eritrean colony, or to forsake his colleague Sonnino, caused a breach between him and the radical leader Cavallotti. Cavallotti then began against him a pitiless campaign of defamation. An unsuccessful attempt upon Crispi's life by the anarchist Lega brought a momentary truce, but Cavallotti's attacks were soon renewed more fiercely than ever. They produced so little effect that the general election of 1895 gave Crispi a huge majority, but, a year later, the defeat of the Italian army at Adowa in Abyssinia brought about his resignation. The ensuing Rudini cabinet lent itself to Cavallotti's campaign, and at the end of 1897 the judicial authorities applied to the chamber for permission to prosecute Crispi for embezzlement. A parliamentary commission, appointed to inquire into the charges against him, discovered only that Crispi, on assuming office in 1893, had found the secret service coffers empty, and had borrowed from a state bank the sum of £12,000 for secret service, repaying it with the monthly instalments granted in regular course by the treasury. The commission, considering this proceeding irregular, proposed, and the chamber adopted, a vote of censure, but refused to authorize a prosecution. Crispi resigned his seat in parliament, but was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in April 1898 by his Palermo constituents. For some time he took little part in active politics, chiefly on account of his growing blindness. A successful operation for cataract restored his eyesight in June 1900, and notwithstanding his 81 years he resumed to some extent his former political activity. Soon afterwards, however, his health began to give way permanently, and he died at Naples on the 12th of August 1901.
The importance of Crispi in Italian public life depended less upon the many reforms accomplished under his administrations than upon his intense patriotism, remarkable fibre, and capacity for administering to his fellow-countrymen the political tonic of which they stood in constant need. In regard to foreign politics he greatly contributed to raise Italian prestige and to dispel the reputation for untrustworthiness and vacillation acquired by many of his predecessors. If in regard to France his policy appeared to lack suavity and circumspection, it must be remembered that the French republic was then engaged in active anti-Italian schemes and was working, both at the Vatican and in the Sphere of colonial politics, to create a situation that should compel Italy to bow to French exigencies and to abandon the Triple Alliance. Crispi was prepared to cultivate good relations with France, but refused to yield to pressure or to submit to dictation; and in this attitude he was firmly supported by the bulk of his fellow-countrymen. The criticism freely directed against him was based rather upon the circumstances of his unfortunate private life and the misdeeds of an unscrupulous entourage which traded upon his name than upon his personal or political shortcomings.
See Scritti e discorsi politici di F. Crispi, 1847-1890 (Rome, 1890); Francesco Crispi, by W. J. Stillman (London, 1899).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)