The Italian statesman Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando (1860-1952) was the leader of the Italian delegation to the Paris peace talks after World War I and an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the Italian Republic.
Vittorio Orlando was born in Palermo on May 19, 1860. His long career in politics brought him into the limelight of national and world affairs, although he played no more than a minor role in the shaping of contemporary history. On the other hand, his career illustrates certain tendencies in Italian politics which are worthy of mention.
Since the unification of Italy there has been a marked tendency for middle-class and intellectual southern Italians to seek an outlet for their ambitions in national government service. Until very recently the rural and impoverished Mezzogiorno region offered pitifully few opportunities for its educated stratum to rise. Quite naturally, once established in Rome, the despised Sicilian or Calabrese politician might well wish to submerge his southern identity — to prove himself more "national" in outlook than his northern colleagues. Thus when Orlando went to the Chamber of Deputies in 1897, he was following, and would continue to follow, a well-worn path.
However, Orlando was luckier than most. He entered the Cabinet in 1903 and thereafter held a number of important ministerial posts until the outbreak of World War I. A fervent supporter of Italian entry into the war, he eventually was made prime minister, a position which he occupied when he led the Italian delegation at Paris after the 1918 armistice. A famous group photograph of the time shows him poised in amiable talk with his conference colleagues, American president Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and the French war leader Georges Clemenceau. But the smile fled from Orlando's face after Wilson refused to support Italian claims to the Adriatic city of Fiume (later a lodestone for Fascist agitation).
Orlando's patriotic stand first won him domestic plaudits; but his failure to achieve a favorable diplomatic settlement cost him his post in June 1919. However, he remained in the Chamber of Deputies, where, as president of the Chamber, he was representative of a less fortunate political tendency than the movement of southern Italians into national administration. This was the tendency of a large number of conservative and center politicians to look favorably upon the posturings of Benito Mussolini and his Blackshirts during the wave of labor unrest that swept post-war Italy. Their fears heightened by the rise of bolshevism and the Third International, these politicians, Orlando among them, succumbed to Mussolini's propaganda that the "emergency" warranted the formation of a "strong" government that would crack down hard on labor and the left.
When eventually it was revealed that Mussolini (the Duce was now in power) ordered the murder of the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti, Orlando went over into opposition to fascism. In Sicily he attempted to mobilize electoral opposition to Mussolini; but the elections were easily rigged by the Fascists and there were soon no meaningful elections to contest. Orlando then withdrew from politics.
Following World War II, Orlando joined the group of old-line politicians who were attempting, with mixed success, to play a renewed role in the politics of the republic. First as president of the 1946 Constituent Assembly, then as senator, Orlando seemed to have made the transition with marked success. But in 1948 he was defeated by Luigi Einaudi in his bid to become first president of the republic; and he died in Rome only a few years later, on Dec. 1, 1952.
For a discussion of Orlando's career and its political and social background see Denis Mack Smith, Italy: A Modern History (rev. ed. 1969), and A. William Salomone, ed., Italy from the Risorgimento to Fascism (1970), which has an especially useful bibliography.