Nitti entered the Chamber of Deputies in 1904 as a Radical. In 1911 he entered the government of Giovanni Giolitti as minister of agriculture, industry, and commerce. He remained until 1914 a staunch supporter of Giolitti, the dominant figure in Italian parliamentary life in the early twentieth century.
World War I altered the course of Nitti's political career. Unlike Giolitti he favored Italian participation in the conflict, although he protested the way in which a vocal minority had maneuvered the country into becoming a belligerent one. Unlike such interventionist leaders as Premier Salandra, Nitti saw the war in an ideological framework, as a protection for European democracy against the threat of German militarism rather than as a vehicle for Italian territorial expansion. Nitti remained on the back benches during Italy's first two years in the conflict. He busied himself drawing plans for his homeland's future: he pictured Italy developing, with foreign assistance, into a modern industrial democracy closely linked with Great Britain and France.
In mid-1917 Nitti visited the United States to obtain economic and financial help from the war's newest participant. He returned to find his own stature enhanced. While he had been away, the cabinet of Paolo Boselli was cracking as a result of the crisis precipitated by the enemy victory at Caporetto (October 24). There was talk that Nitti might succeed Boselli. In the end he became instead minister of the treasury in the cabinet of Vittorio Orlando, but his stature in the cabinet was second only to Orlando's. His field of responsibility soon embraced the entire war effort.
Nitti became a whirlwind of activity. He considered it essential to mobilize the entire nation and its resources in order to fight the war to a successful conclusion. To meet the nation's economic crises, he persuaded Rome's allies to send in food and fuel supplies to tide Italy over the last year of the war. He obtained financial credits as well, telling the Allies that he had first tapped Italy's meager resources with a successful domestic loan drive.
Nitti also played a significant role in the formation of Italian military policy. He backed the new commander of the Italian army, General Diaz, who wished to put off offensive action as long as possible in order to let the army recover from the strain of Caporetto. He also supported Diaz in his vain re¬quests to General Foch, the Allied supreme commander, not to draw French and British forces out of Italy for use in blocking Germany's spring 1918 offensives in France.
Disgruntled at the course of events immediately following the armistice, Nitti resigned from his post in January 1919. His bitterness at the failure of the government to adopt his economic demobilization plan precipitated his departure, but, unlike other members of the wartime cabinet such as Leonida Bissolati who resigned with loud words of condemnation for their former colleagues, Nitti went quietly and kept the goodwill of useful political allies.
By June 1919, he had returned to lead his own cabinet. His term in office was marred by domestic discontent and by lingering quarrels over the disap-pointing territorial gains Italy had been awarded at the Versailles Peace Conference. Nitti tried to present the picture of moderation to his countrymen. He refused to crack down on domestic unrest, and he did not wish to fight useless battles to hang on to the chunks of Italian territory in the Adriatic that had not been awarded to his country in the postwar settlement. He saw his main task as dealing with his country's massive economic problems: to do this successfully meant staying on good terms with powers like the United States, which played a leading role in blocking Italy from obtaining its maximum territorial goals in the Adriatic.
In September 1919, a band of freebooters under the warrior-poet Gabriele D'Annunzio seized Fiume, the most emotionally charged of the disputed chunks of territory. Nitti was crippled by the knowledge that Italy's military establishment was likely to support D'Annunzio rather than the government if the issue came to armed clash. In the immediate confrontation between the moderate economist-politician and the romantic poet, the former was at a hopeless disadvantage. Wanting only to concentrate on domestic issues, Nitti found himself burdened throughout the remainder of his term in office by this bizarre development in the realm of foreign policy.
Nitti left office in June 1920. He maintained a brief alliance with Mussolini, the rising Fascist leader, in the hope that Mussolini's extraparliamentary movement could be toned down and brought within the conventional political system. This pious hope was soon blown away as Mussolini consolidated his hold on Italian life, and Nitti went into exile in 1924.
During World War II Nitti, living in France, was taken into custody by the Germans. He was freed by the Allies at the close of the war and returned from his internment in Germany to his home in Italy. He reentered Italian politics and was elected to the Senate in 1948. He played the role of elder statesman during his last years and died in Rome, February 20, 1953.
- Notable works: Population and the social system (1894) Catholic socialism (1895) Eroi e briganti (Heroes and brigands) - (edition 1899 – Osanna Edizioni 2015 - ISBN 8881674696, 9788881674695) L'Italia all'alba del secolo XX (1901) Principi di scienza delle finanzie (1903) Peaceless Europe (1922) The decadence of Europe (1922) The wreck of Europe (1923) Bolshevism, Fascism and Democracy (1927)
Denomination: Roman Catholicism
Born July 19, 1868
Died February 20, 1953