Gaetano Recchi, Founder of the Savings Bank

Written by  Giorgio Franceschini
In memory of a Ferrarese on the eve of his two hundredth anniversary.
Gaetano Recchi, born in Ferrara on the 13th of December 1798, was extremely active as a politician, civil servant, scholar and writer during that troubled period of European and Italian history between the French revolution of 1830 to the second war of Italian independence.

The thirty-three year old Recchi was one of the moving spirits behind those risings and later, as a mature man and one faithful to the "papal homeland", he was one of the most important figures involved in the events and the political innovations that followed the election of Pius IX to the papal throne. Unfortunately he did not live to see the stirring events of 1859, nor did he have the chance to apply his skills and experience - gained in the liberal political atmosphere ushered in by Pius IX - to the parliamentary and governmental institutions of the fledgling Kingdom of Italy.

The son of Luigi Recchi, who died while his son was still a boy, and Chiara Bonaccioli, the widow Scudellari, the young Recchi received his schooling at colleges in Bologna and Siena. He was also a student at the University of Ferrara but he abandoned jurisprudence to devote himself with passionate enthusiasm to the study of a wide variety of subjects, from literature to history, from geography to economics. He administered his inheritance - burdened at first by his late father's many debts - with sagacity and succeed in getting the family fortunes back on a sound footing.
His first publication, in which he dealt with state teaching standards, dates from 1829. Two years after that he published a brief study on the usefulness of a navigable canal between Ferrara and the Adriatic, a work followed by a treatise on artesian wells in 1830. Other essays on agriculture were to follow over the years, in particular an outstanding series of articles on agricultural problems and techniques.

In 1843 Recchi published Some Notes on a Plan for an Italian Customs Union, developing a theme frequently addressed in those years, and followed with especial interest by the agricultural classes, anxious to enjoy the fruits of increased profitability. Still in the realm of economics, Recchi published two other important works: one in 1842 on free exchange and The Economics of the Railways of the Papal States in 1846.

With the outbreak of popular risings in February 1831 in Emilia, the Romagna and the Marche, Recchi abandoned study, books and newspapers in favour of revolutionary political action. He accepted the post of secretary to the provisional government set up by the insurgents in place of the papal power. At the insurgents' congress, held in Bologna on the 26th of February, Recchi represented Ferrara together with Antonio Delfini. Unfortunately the liberal dream was shattered on the 6th of March with the re-establishment of the papal authority and Recchi went into exile in France, where he stayed until pardoned by Pope Gregory XVI.
In May 1838 Recchi was working alongside count Alessandro Masi to establish a Savings Bank - one of the first in the Papal States and in Italy - which was to open its doors on the 5th of February 1839. Masi was the first Chairman and held this post for a brief period, until the end of 1839 to be precise. Recchi served as adviser-secretary to the Chairman, a position he held until 1843, under the new Chairman count Pier Gentile Varano.

Giorgio Bissi, in an essay written in 1938, deals exhaustively with Recchi who "by taking a CLOSE interest IN the practical workings OF the Bank, acquired a wider understanding OF savings AND credit mechanisms that enabled him TO come up WITH SOME ideas worthy OF the highest consideration because they were BOTH ahead OF their TIME AND bear witness TO a shrewd series OF insights INTO the possible development OF the Savings Bank IN relation NOT ONLY TO the needs OF the poorer classes but also OF Ferrarese society AS a whole [...].

ALL credit therefore TO Recchi, who blazed the trail LEADING towards that line OF development whose point OF departure was inspired by philanthropic sentiments AND the desire TO assist the poorest classes AND whose final goal was the accumulation OF savings AND the adoption OF credit mechanisms calculated TO WORK TO the advantage OF ALL social classes".
Sixteen years after his participation in the revolution, he was called to represent Ferrara in the Council of State, a body open to the lay community.
Set up by Pius IX, the Council numbered twenty-six members charged with assisting the public administration in many areas of government. Recchi was made the Chairman of the financial section.
But the Council was not to prove long lived, as the great events of 1848 were waiting in the wings ready to overwhelm institutions and programmes alike.
One crisis followed another in this period during which the papal government had to tackle the constitutional problem as well as that posed by the Austrian war. On the 10th of March 1848 cardinal Antonelli was ordered to form the new government. Gaetano Recchi was given the Ministry of the Interior and the de facto leadership of the government. Four days after that the Statute of the Papal States was published, a document hitherto kept secret by the Curia in Rome.

But while Recchi and his government were pressing the Roman state to enter the war on the side of Piedmont, Pius IX had other ideas and he certainly had no intention of ordering either his regular or volunteer troops across the border ("the war against the Germans [...] IS far FROM our thoughts"). Recchi immediately handed in his resignation. The following month he was nominated a member of the Upper Chamber of the Papal state, but the anguish caused by the Pope's decision persuaded him to retire from public life.

This is the story of a man whose memory has grown dim among the people of Ferrara, a fact noted by Niccolini when he observed that "AS a result OF a deplorable misunderstanding over the house they have already put up an epigraph ON the wall IN memory OF another patriot who was a contemporary OF Recchi's, but no less a figure than he was". Recchi has been buried in the fullest sense of the word and I had to consult the cemetery archives before I could verify that the urn containing his remains - which bears no indication as to the identity of the deceased - was really the right one. In conclusion Niccolini had the rights of it when he said that "to honour Gaetano's memory IS TO remedy a great injustice".