Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Pellegrino Rossi

Publicist, diplomat, economist, and statesman, b. at Carrara, Italy, July 13, 1787, assassinated at Rome, November 15, 1848

Click to enlarge

Rossi, PELLEGRINO, publicist, diplomat, economist, and statesman, b. at Carrara, Italy, July 13, 1787; assassinated at Rome, November 15, 1848. He studied at the Universities of Pavia and Bologna, in which latter city he practiced law with great success. In 1874 he obtained the chair of criminal law and civil procedure. Rossi being an advocate of Italian unity and independence, and a member of the Carbonari, Joachim Murat, King of Naples, who then aspired to the sovereignty of the entire peninsula, appointed him commissioner general of the provinces lying between the Po and the Tronto; but on Murat’s defeat at Tolentino, Rossi was forced to fly to France, whence, after Waterloo, he betook himself to Geneva. At Geneva he began a private course of Roman law which gained him a chair in the university of that city, notwithstanding the fact that he was a Catholic. Having married a Protestant Genevese lady, he was elected to the Cantonal Council of Geneva, where he played a prominent role in the compilation of the laws on mortgages, civil marriage, and court procedure. In 1832 he presented to the Swiss Federal Diet a plan of a constitution (called the Patto Rossi) based on that of 1803, which was approved by the Diet, but rejected by the communes. Notwithstanding his political activity he continued his deep study of law. Between 1819 and 1821, with the collaboration of Sismondi and Bello, he published the “Annales de legislation et d’economie politique”, which in a short time gained him a world-wide reputation. With Guizot he established the doctrinaire school, the juridical principles of which did not differ fundamentally from those of the eighteenth century. In 1829 he published his “Traite de droit penal”, an authoritative work of the time.

The hostility caused by his projected constitution led him, in 1833, to seek the chair of political economy in the College de France, and although the Academie des Sciences Morales had presented another candidate, Rossi was successful. In the beginning he met with some opposition, which, however, he overcame, chiefly through the influence of Guizot, minister of Louis Philippe, who knew that Rossi shared his political and juridical views. In 1834 he taught constitutional law in the university; nor did he fail to gain further honors and distinctions, being elected a member of the Academie des Sciences Morales (1836) and made a peer of France (1839), and an officer of the Legion of Honor (1841). In 1845 he withdrew from the professorial chair to embrace a diplomatic career. He was sent to Rome to negotiate the suppression of the Jesuits, at first only as an envoy extraordinary, later as an ambassador, with the title of Count. On the fall of Louis Philippe he withdrew into private life, watching the development of the Revolution in the first years of the pontificate of Pius IX. He believed that the age demanded a regime of liberty, but that it should be granted gradually. The pope, who knew his opinions on this subject, appointed him minister of justice in the Fabbri ministry, on the fall of which Rossi was invited to draw up a program. His intention was to reestablish the papal authority, together with a form of constitutional government, but above all to restore public order. Such a program was as displeasing to the Conservative Party, who distrusted the prevailing views, as to the advanced Republicans, who hated Rossi as the representative of the constitutional monarchy. Like Pius IX, he favored the Italian league, but wished to preserve the independence of each state. This program, and the energy which Rossi exhibited against the disturbers of public order, caused him to be sentenced to death by the secret societies. On November 15, 1848, Rossi was on his way to the Legislative Assembly (in the Palazzo della Cancelleria) to explain his program; hardly had he seated himself in his carriage, when an assassin stabbed him in the neck with a dagger. He expired almost immediately. Pius IX, on hearing the tidings, exclaimed: “Count Rossi has died a martyr of duty.” The assassination was for the secret societies the signal to spread the flames of the revolution which drove Pius IX into exile and established the Roman Republic.

The most important of Rossi’s writings is his “Cours d’economie politique”, a classic work, based on the theories of Smith, Say, Malthus, and Ricardo. Like these authors, he favored freedom of trade, labor, and manufacture; and in general, not clearly foreseeing the difficulties of economic life, he wished to solve them by the free play of individual force and intelligence rather than by legislation. But he recognized the great economic utility of associations. A characteristic note of his scientific speculations is his fondness for considering social phenomena from a mathematical point of view, so that he was called the geometrician of economy. This made him attach great importance to statistics. In politics he is the father of the principle of non-intervention, and published an essay on the subject. A most distinguished representative of the middle-class Liberal doctrinaires, of the type of the “men of 1830”, Pellegrino Rossi died by the assassin’s poignard as the inevitable result of a policy too advanced for the supporters of the Holy Alliance, and too backward for the generation that was being prepared by Cavor.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!