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Alcide De Gasperi

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Title: Alcide De Gasperi  
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Collection: 1881 Births, 1954 Deaths, 20Th-Century Venerated Christians, Austro-Hungarian Journalists, Austro-Hungarian Politicians, Burials at San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura, Christian Democracy (Italy) Politicians, Cold War Leaders, Foreign Ministers of Italy, Grand Crosses of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Italian Anti-Communists, Italian Austro-Hungarians, Italian Diplomats, Italian Journalists, Italian Ministers of the Interior, Italian People's Party (1919) Politicians, Italian Philologists, Italian Roman Catholics, Members of the Chamber of Deputies (Italy), Members of the Constituent Assembly of Italy, Members of the Imperial Council (Austria), Members of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, People from Trentino, Presidents of the European Parliament, Prime Ministers of Italy, Servants of God
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Alcide De Gasperi

Alcide De Gasperi
30th Prime Minister of Italy
In office
10 December 1945 – 17 August 1953
Monarch Victor Emmanuel III
Umberto II
Lieutenant Prince Umberto
President Enrico De Nicola
Luigi Einaudi
Deputy Luigi Einaudi
Randolfo Pacciardi
Giuseppe Saragat
Attilio Piccioni
Giovanni Porzio
Preceded by Ferruccio Parri
Succeeded by Giuseppe Pella
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
26 July 1951 – 17 August 1953
Preceded by Carlo Sforza
Succeeded by Giuseppe Pella
In office
12 December 1944 – 18 October 1946
Prime Minister Ivanoe Bonomi
Ferruccio Parri
Preceded by Ivanoe Bonomi
Succeeded by Pietro Nenni
Minister of the Interior
In office
13 July 1946 – 2 February 1947
Preceded by Giuseppe Romita
Succeeded by Mario Scelba
Provisional Head of State of Italy
In office
18 June 1946 – 28 June 1946
Preceded by King Umberto II
Succeeded by Enrico De Nicola
Minister of the Italian Africa
In office
10 December 1945 – 19 April 1953
Preceded by Ferruccio Parri
Succeeded by Position abolished
President of the European Parliament
In office
1 January 1954 – 19 August 1954
Preceded by Paul Henri Spaak
Succeeded by Giuseppe Pella
Personal details
Born Alcide Amedeo Francesco De Gasperi
(1881-04-03)3 April 1881
Pieve Tesino, Tyrol, Austria-Hungary
Died 19 August 1954(1954-08-19) (aged 73)
Trentino, Italy
Nationality Italian
Political party UPPT (1906–1920)
PPI (1920–1926)
Independent (1926–1943)
DC (1943–1954)
Spouse(s) Francesca Romani (1894–1954)
Children Maria Romana De Gasperi
other 3 daughters
Alma mater University of Vienna
Occupation Journalist, politician
Religion Roman Catholicism

Alcide Amedeo Francesco De Gasperi (Italian pronunciation: ; 3 April 1881 – 19 August 1954) was an Italian statesman and politician who founded the Christian Democracy party.[1] From 1945 to 1953 he was the prime minister of eight successive coalition governments. His eight-year term in office remains a landmark of political longevity for a leader in modern Italian politics. A conservative Catholic, he was one of the Founding fathers of the European Union, along with the other Italian Altiero Spinelli, the French Robert Schuman and the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.


  • Early years 1
  • Opposing Fascism 2
  • Founding the Christian Democrat Party 3
  • Prime Minister 4
  • Social security reform 5
  • American support 6
  • 1948 elections 7
  • Death and legacy 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
    • Notes 10.1
  • Further reading 11
    • In Italian 11.1
  • External links 12

Early years

De Gasperi was born in Pieve Tesino in Tyrol, which at that time belonged to Austria-Hungary, now part of the Trentino in Italy. His father was a local police officer of limited financial means. From 1896 De Gasperi was active in the Social Christian movement. In 1900 he joined the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy in Vienna, where he played an important role in the inception of the Christian student movement. He was very much inspired by the Rerum novarum encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. In 1904 he took an active part in the student demonstrations in favour of an Italian-language university. Imprisoned with other protesters during the inauguration of the Italian juridical faculty in Innsbruck, he was released after twenty days. In 1905, De Gasperi obtained a degree in philology.

In 1905 he began to work as editor of the newspaper La Voce Cattolica which was replaced in September 1906 by Il Trentino, and after a short time he became its editor. In his newspaper he often took positions in favour of a cultural autonomy for Trentino and in defence of Italian culture in Trentino, in contrast to the Germanisation plans of the German radical nationalists in Tyrol. However, he never questioned whether or not Trentino should belong to Austria–Hungary and claimed that, in the case of a referendum, 90% of the Trentino would nevertheless choose the popular Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria over the Italian motherland.

In 1911 he became a Member of Parliament for the Popular Political Union of Trentine (Italian: Unione Politica Popolare del Trentino – UPPT) in the Austrian Reichsrat, a post he held for 6 years. He was politically neutral during World War I, which he spent in Vienna. However, he sympathized with the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of Pope Benedict XV (1914–1922) and Bl. Karl I of Austria to obtain an honourable peace and stop the war and mass warfare. When his home region was transferred to Italy in the post-war settlement, he accepted Italian citizenship.

Opposing Fascism

In 1919 he was among of the founders of the Italian People's Party (Italian: Partito Popolare Italiano – PPI), with Don Luigi Sturzo. He served as a deputy in the Italian Parliament from 1921 to 1924, a period marked by the rise of Fascism. He initially supported the participation of the PPI in Benito Mussolini’s first government in October 1922.

As Mussolini's hold on the Italian government grew stronger, he soon diverged with the Fascists over constitutional changes to the powers of the executive and to the election system (the Acerbo Law), and to Fascist violence against the constitutional parties, culminating in the murder of Giacomo Matteotti. The PPI split, and De Gasperi became secretary of the remaining anti-Fascist group in May 1924. In November 1926, in a climate of overt violence and intimidation by the Fascists, the PPI was dissolved.

De Gasperi was arrested in March 1927 and sentenced to four years in prison. The Vatican negotiated his release. A year and a half in prison nearly broke De Gasperi's health. After his release in July 1928, he was unemployed and in serious financial hardship, until in 1929 his ecclesiastical contacts secured him a job as a cataloguer in the Vatican Library, where he spent the next fourteen years until the collapse of Fascism in July 1943.

Founding the Christian Democrat Party

During World War II, he organized the establishment of the first (and at the time, illegal) Christian Democracy party, or Democrazia Cristiana, drawing upon the ideology of the Popular Party. In January 1943, he published "Ideas for Reconstruction" (Italian: Idee ricostruttive) which amounted to a party programme for the party. He became the first general secretary of the new party in 1944.

De Gasperi was the undisputed head of the Christian Democrats, the party that dominated Parliament for the next decades. Although his control of the DC appeared almost complete, he had to carefully balance different factions and interests, especially with regards to relations with the Vatican, social reform, and foreign policy.

Prime Minister

From 1945 to 1953, he was the prime minister of eight successive Christian Democratic governments. His eight-year rule remains a landmark of political longevity for one leader in modern Italian politics. During his successive governments, Italy Marshall Plan. During that time, Italy became a member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which evolved into the European Union (EU).

After the liberation of Rome in June 1944, he served as minister without portfolio and then as Foreign Minister. In December 1945, he became Prime Minister for the first time, leading a coalition government that included the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and Italian Socialist Party (PSI). Communist party leader Palmiro Togliatti acted as vice-premier. He tried to soften the terms of the pending Allied peace treaty with Italy and secured financial and economic aid through the European Recovery Program (Marshal Plan) – which was opposed by the Communists.

In June 1946 Italy held the Constitutional Referendum to decide whether Italy would remain a monarchy or become a republic. Republicans won with 54% of the vote. Elections were also held at the same time for the Constituent Assembly. As chief of the Italian delegation at the World War II peace conference in Paris, De Gasperi obtained concessions from the Allies that guaranteed Italian sovereignty. Under the Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947, the eastern border area was lost to Yugoslavia and the free territory of Trieste was divided between the two states.

One his most striking achievements in foreign policy was the Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement with Austria in September 1946, that established his home region, southern Tirol, as an autonomous region.

Social security reform

In domestic policy, a number of social security reforms were carried out by various ministers of De Gasperi's cabinets in the areas of rents and popular housing, unemployment insurance and pensions.

American support

De Gasperi enjoyed considerable support in the US, where he was considered able to oppose the rising tide of Communism – in particular the PCI, which was the biggest communist party in a Western European democracy. In January 1947 he visited the US. The chief goals of the trip were to soften the terms of the pending peace treaty with Italy, and to obtain immediate economic assistance. His ten-day tour, engineered by media mogul Henry Luce – the owner of Time magazine – and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce - the future ambassador to Rome - was viewed as a media "triumph," prompting positive comments of a wide section of the American press.[2]

During his meetings in the US, he managed to secure a financially modest but politically significant US$100 million Eximbank loan to Italy. According to De Gasperi, public opinion would view the loan as a vote of confidence in the Italian Government and strengthen his position versus the Communist Party in the context of the emerging Cold War. The positive results strengthened De Gasperi’s reputation in Italy. He also came back with useful information on the incipient change in American foreign policy that would lead to the Cold War and in Italy, the break with the Communists and left-wing Socialists and their removal from the government in the May 1947 crisis.[3]

1948 elections

The general elections in April 1948 were heavily influenced by the cold-war confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States. After the Soviet-inspired February 1948 communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the US became alarmed about Soviet intentions and feared that, if the leftist coalition were to win the elections, the Soviet-funded Italian Communist Party (PCI) would draw Italy into the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

The election campaign remains unmatched in verbal aggression and fanaticism in Italy's history on both sides. The Catholic Church in Italy worked hard to encourage people to vote against communist candidates. The Christian Democratic propaganda became famous in claiming that in Communist countries "children sent parents to jail", "children were owned by the state", "people ate their own children", and claiming disaster would strike Italy if the left were to take power.[4][5]

In the US, a campaign was launched to prevent a victory of the Communist-dominated Popular Democratic Front (FDP – Italian: Fronte Democratico Popolare). Italian-Americans were encouraged to write letters to their relatives in Italy. The popular Italian-American singer Frank Sinatra made a Voice of America radio broadcast. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funneled "black bag" contributions to anti-communist candidates with the approval of the National Security Council and President Truman. Joseph P. Kennedy and Claire Booth Luce helped to raise US$2 million for the Christian Democrat Party.[6] Time magazine backed the campaign and featured De Gasperi on its 19 April 1948 issue’s cover and in its lead story.[5] (He would appear on a Time cover again on 25 May 1953, during the campaign for that year's election, with an extensive biography.[7])

The Christian Democrats won a resounding victory with 48.5% of the vote (their best result ever) and strong majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. The Communists received only half of the votes they had in 1946. Although De Gasperi could have formed an exclusively DC government, he opted instead to form a new centrist coalition. He ruled for five more years, helming four additional coalitions. "De Gasperi’s policy is patience," according to the foreign news correspondent for the New York Times, Anne McCormick. "He seems to be feeling his way among the explosive problems he has to deal with, but perhaps this wary mine-detecting method is the stabilizing force that holds the country in balance."[8]

Death and legacy

Alcide De Gasperi burial in San Lorenzo Basilica, Rome

In 1952, the party overwhelmingly endorsed his authority over the government and over the party. However, it was also the start of his decline. He came under increasing criticism from the emerging left wing in the party. Their main accusations were that he was too cautious in social and economic reform, that he stifled debate, and that he subordinated the party to the interests of government.

When the Christian Democrats did not gain a majority in the elections of 1953, despite the disruptive effect[9] of the approval of a much discussed electoral law, De Gasperi was unable to establish a workable government and was forced to resign as Prime Minister.[10][11] The following year he also had to give up the leadership of the party.

Two months later, on 19 August 1954, he died in Sella di Valsugana, in his beloved Trentino. It is said that he had to be given a State funeral as he had died with almost no means of his own - a jaw-dropping fact in a country where, even then, politicians were expected to do well for themselves. He is buried in the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, a basilica in Rome. The process for his beatification was opened in 1993.[12]

"De Gasperi was against exacerbating conflict," according to his former secretary and former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. "He taught us to search for compromise, to mediate."[13]

He is considered to be one of the Council of Europe and supported the Schuman Declaration, which in 1951 led to the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – a forerunner in the process of European integration. He was named president of the Community in 1954, and although the project eventually failed, De Gasperi helped to develop the idea of the common European defence policy.[15] In 1952 he received the Karlspreis (International Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aachen), an award by the German city of Aachen to people who contributed to the European idea and European peace. The 1954–1955 academic year at the College of Europe was named in his honour.

See also



  1. ^ Alcide De Gasperi (Italian statesman).
  2. ^ De Gasperi through American Eyes: Media and Public Opinion, 1945–53, by Steven F. White, in: Italian Politics and Society, No.61 Fall/Winter 2005
  3. ^ The Italian Stabilization of 1947: Domestic and International Factors, by Juan Carlos Martinez Oliva, Institute of European Studies, 2007
  4. ^ Show of Force, Time magazine, 12 April 1948
  5. ^ a b How to Hang On, Time magazine, 19 April 1948
  6. ^ The Cold War Begins, Frank Eugene Smitha
  7. ^ Man from the Mountains, Time magazine, 25 May 1953
  8. ^ New York Times, 16 February 1949, quoted in De Gasperi through American Eyes: Media and Public Opinion, 1945–53, by Steven F. White, in: Italian Politics and Society, No.61 Fall/Winter 2005
  9. ^ (Italian), in L’Ago e il filo, 2014Come il Senato si scoprì vaso di coccio.
  10. ^ Cabinet Maker, Time, 27 July 1953
  11. ^ De Gasperi's Fall, Time, 10 August 1953
  12. ^ (Italian) Servo di Dio Alcide De Gasperi, Santi beati
  13. ^ All the prime minister's men, by Alexander Stille, The Independent, 24 September 1995
  14. ^ Alcide De Gasperi's humanist and European message, European People's Party
  15. ^ In the beginning was De Gasperi, The Florentine, 4 October 2007
  • Man from the Mountains, biography in Time magazine, 25 May 1953
  • Alcide De Gasperi and his age: A chronology of the Statesman's life and works, Alcide De Gasperi Foundation
  • Alcide De Gasperi (1881–1954) by Pier Luigi Ballini, Alcide De Gasperi in the history of Europe

Further reading

  • Bigaran, Mariapia. "Alcide De Gasperi: the apprenticeship of a political leader," Modern Italy Nov 2009, Vol. 14 Issue 4, pp 415–30
  • Carrillo, Elisa. Alcide De Gasperi: The Long Apprenticeship. University of Notre Dame Press, 1965.
  • Cau, Maurizio. "Alcide De Gasperi: a political thinker or a thinking politician?" Modern Italy Nov 2009, Vol. 14 Issue 4, pp 431–45
  • Duggan, Christopher. Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796 (2008) ch 27–28
  • Lorenzini, Sara. "The roots of a 'statesman': De Gasperi's foreign policy," Modern Italy Nov 2009, Vol. 14 Issue 4, pp 473–84
  • Pombeni, Paolo, and Giuliana Nobili Schiera. "Alcide de Gasperi: 1881-1954-a political life in a troubled century," Modern Italy Nov2009, Vol. 14 Issue 4, pp 379–401

In Italian

  • (Italian) Pietro Scoppola, La proposta politica di De Gasperi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1977.
  • (Italian) Giulio Andreotti, Intervista su De Gasperi; a cura di Antonio Gambino, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 1977.
  • (Italian) Giulio Andreotti, De Gasperi visto da vicino, Milano, Rizzoli, 1986.
  • (Italian) Nico Perrone, De Gasperi e l'America, Palermo, Sellerio, 1995.
  • (Italian) Alcide De Gasperi: un percorso europeo, a cura di Eckart Conze, Gustavo Corni, Paolo Pombeni, Bologna, Il mulino, 2004.
  • (Italian) Piero Craveri, De Gasperi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2006

External links

  • Alcide De Gasperi Foundation
  • The private papers of Alcide De Gasperi are deposited at the Historical Archives of the European Union in Florence
  • (Italian) De Gasperi: un politico europeo venuto dal futuro, Centro Studi Malfatti
Political offices
Preceded by
Ivanoe Bonomi
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Pietro Nenni
Preceded by
Ferruccio Parri
President of the Council of Ministers of Italy
Succeeded by
Giuseppe Pella
Preceded by
Giuseppe Romita
Italian Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Mario Scelba
Preceded by
Carlo Sforza
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Giuseppe Pella
Preceded by
Paul-Henri Spaak
President of the European Parliament
Succeeded by
Giuseppe Pella
Assembly seats
Preceded by
Mario Rossi
Member of Austrian Reichsrat for Fiemme Valley
Legislatures: XXI, XXII

Succeeded by
None, territory ceded
Italian Chamber of Deputies
Preceded by
None, territory annexed
Member of Parliament for Trentin & South Tirol
Legislatures: XXVI, XXVII

Succeeded by
Title jointly held
Preceded by
None, Parliament re-established
Member of Parliament for Trentin & South Tirol
Legislatures: CA, I, II

Succeeded by
Title jointly held
Party political offices
Preceded by
None, party created
Secretary of Christian Democracy
Succeeded by
Attilio Piccioni
Preceded by
Guido Gonella
Secretary of Christian Democracy
Succeeded by
Amintore Fanfani
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