The article retraces the political career of Benedetto Cairoli (1825-1889). A former officer in Garibaldi’s troops, Cairoli assumed the role of charismatic leader of the Democratic Left in the Italian post-unification Parliament, and would be best remembered for his 1878 «ultraliberal» cabinet. According to the author, however, the reasons for his enduring influence and popularity are to be found in his status as a national political celebrity, rather than in his skills as a statesman (over which the ambiguous alliance with Depretis and the diplomatic failure of Tunis in 1879-1881 cast a shadow). In the present essay, the reconstruction of the political and institutional aspects of Cairoli’s cursus honorum are intertwined with the myth-making process, through which he became a «living monument» of the Risorgimento, from 1860 onwards. Such phenomenon was primarily possible because Cairoli was the last survivor of a family martyred for the Italian cause, although the 1878 failed attack on his life played a crucial role as well, transforming him, from a revolutionary icon, into a hero of the monarchy.
Keywords: Cairoli, myth-making, political celebrity, Garibaldinism, Historical Left, democracy