Alcide De Gasperi was a politician, statesman and one of the founders of the Italian Republic and the European Union. De Gasperi was born on April 3, 1881, in Pieve Testino, in what is now the Trentino region in Italy. Interested in politics even as a young man, De Gasperi was a militant Catholic who favored moderate political positions. In 1919 he joined the Italian Popular Party, and in 1921 was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. In 1922 the head of the Fascist Party, Benito Mussolini, rose to power. Mussolini instituted a dictatorship, eliminating all of Italy’s political parties in 1925. De Gasperi’s political career came to a brusque stop. De Gasperi was accused of anti-fascist activity and sent to prison for over a year. Once he’d completed his sentence, the Bishop of Trent helped him to find work as a librarian in the Vatican, where he remained for the duration of the Fascist regime.
In 1941, while Italy was embroiled in World War Two, critics of the Fascist regime organized a resistance movement. De Gasperi helped found an underground Catholic movement whose goal was to overthrow Mussolini’s government. It was the beginning of what would eventually become the most important Italian political party of its era: the Christian Democrats. In 1944, following the fall of Mussolini, the Christian Democrats formed a new government together with other political groups that had participated in the Resistance, including the Socialist and Communist Parties. The war ended in 1945. A year later, Italy officially became a Republic. De Gasperi was the country’s first President. In the wake of the War, Italy was in difficulty. In 1947 De Gasperi traveled to the United States, where he succeeded in obtaining economic aid. The US government pressured him to expel the Communist and Socialist parties from his government upon his return to Italy. Italy became one of the US’s closest allies.
In the 1948 elections, the Christian Democrats ran against the Communist party. De Gasperi and his running mates won an historic victory, receiving 48% of the vote. No other Italian party had ever won by so much. De Gasperi began rebuilding the country with US economic aid provided through the Marshall Plan. In 1949, De Gasperi successfully proposed that Italy join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, a military agreement that unites countries friendly to the US. Two years later, De Gasperi became one of the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community, an organization that laid the foundations for the European Union. In the 1953 elections, the Christian Democratic party retained the majority, albeit by a significantly smaller margin. De Gasperi resigned. De Gasperi died in his home in Borgo Valsugana on August 19, 1954. He was 73. He had rebuilt Italy after World War Two, and led his country to side definitively with the US and the West.