The misfortune of the Cisalpine Republic has often been acknowledged, especially by historians. In the collective imagination, the Cisalpine Republic represents an example of acquiescence to the military protectorate of France. Such a representation is rooted in the dramatic weeks of spring 1799, when Austro-Russian forces invaded the territories of the Republic and the Cisalpine government chose to follow the French ambassador Francois Rivaud, finding a safe haven in Chambery, and leaving to their fate the patriots and soldiers who chose to defend the republic. French control of the Cisalpine political classes has always been highlighted, with the latter being perceived as puppets in the hands of the French emissaries. The fate of the press is one of the ways in which historiography has sought to demonstrate that control, focusing particular attention on the heavy censorship of the numerous newspapers that spread during the years of Napoleonic hegemony.
The goal of this contribution is to correct these common misunderstandings by revealing that the Cisalpine legislative and executive bodies were not the prototype of a puppet government, fearful of incurring the disapproval of the government in Paris and ready to support its every desire. Rather, the two bodies, especially within the framework of the Peninsula that was threatened by war, tried to pursue an autonomous policy. This policy encouraged particular civil liberties, which were extended to the press. In this chapter the various laws concerned with the press during the eighteen months of the first Cisalpine Republic will be analyzed, leading to a different picture than the one painted in traditional accounts. These months – especially the one that preceded the collapse of the Republic – saw a relatively free press, or at least one that could withstand governmental checks, complaints, and suspensions. Thanks to the initiative of the same government authorities, the dissemination of periodicals, broadsheets, and journals was abundant and, in relative terms, characterized by freedom of the press.
Other historians, and particularly Carlo Capra in his now classic study of journalism during the revolutionary and Napoleonic era, have reconstructed the dynamics behind the journalistic explosion during the spring of 1796, especially with respect to politics, in the Cisalpine Republic and across the entire Italian peninsula.