On June 2 and 3, 1946 the Italian citizens were called to decide upon the institutional order of the State and to elect the representatives of the Constitutional Assembly.
Today, we know what happened those days: the overall majority voted in favour of the Republic and the turnout was very high: 24,946,878 people went to the polls - 89.08 % of those entitled to vote, 54.27% voted in favour of the Republic (almost 13 million voters) and 45.73% for the monarchy (almost 11 million), the latter concentrated mainly in the South. The referendum was also a triumph for the recently gained women suffrage: almost 13 million women voted - more than men, who were about 12 million.
It is easy, today, to take these results and these numbers for granted: Fascism and the Second World War are long gone, the Republic and democratic procedures are, by now, well established.
This was not the case in 1946 and, besides the results, the referendum and the elections were the first real big exercise in democracy for Italian citizens, after a first phase – that last decades - of a liberalism that was not really inclusive (just consider the exclusion of women from suffrage) and after 20 years of dictatorship.
The pages of some newspapers of the time tell us what that vote meant to those who took part in it better than it can be done today.
The daily newspaper La Voce Repubblicana, an expression of the Italian Republican Party, on Saturday 1 June 1946 stated on its front page: "Citizens voters, prepare yourselves worthily for the test of political maturity that history is asking of you".
Il Popolo, a Christian Democrat newspaper, opened with the title "Tomorrow the people vote for freedom and social justice" and, below, an eloquent "Think, voter!" with a series of considerations and points of view of the Party. It also reported the speech of King Umberto II who, on the eve of the referendum, had declared that he was willing to accept any result but had expressed the hope that, after the approval of the Constitution, a second referendum would be held to allow the citizens a more considered vote and also allow the citizens of the border territories - at that time excluded - to express themselves. That would never happen.
L’Unità – expression of the Communist Party - on May 31, was titled "The election campaign of the P.C.I. (Italian Communist Party) was closed to the cry of: Long live Italy! Long live the republic! Long live freedom" and, on June 1, it declared confidently: "Rome will vote for the republic tomorrow" and even "The republic will win with more than 75% of the votes". The Socialist Avanti! On May 31 claimed "Republic for our dignity - Italy cannot give credit to the monarchy to which it owes a heap of pain and shame - there is no doubt about the result of the referendum that everyone will have to respect"; the newspaper also reported an insight of the electoral debate, in an article titled "The electoral campaign is over - the fever of waiting begins". The latter, written following the conclusion of a Communist Party rally held in Rome – the city described as "buried under the electoral posters" - gives us an idea of the atmosphere on the eve of those days: "the long and intense parenthesis of the electoral rallies ended in beauty. Tomorrow, a new fever will possess the capital: the fever of waiting. Everyone will have to resolve the great problem within themselves"; the article continues noting "the perplexity of the people who, between tomorrow and afterwards, will still have time to question their conscience and continue to discuss".
La Nuova Stampa hoped, instead, that the electoral silence that had just fallen on the country would not turn into the "classic and unfortunate silence that precedes the storm"; nevertheless, it declared itself optimistic for two reasons: the great involvement of the citizens in the electoral debate and the calmness and order in which it had taken place.
Thus the two days of the referendum passed and, on 4 June, the same newspaper recounted the unfolding of the vote, with the title "Democracy has already won", highlighting "the absolute calm of the day of suffrage"; Italy, it stated, had finally "renewed the political electoral consultation after 25 years". The representatives chosen by the people for the Constitutional Assembly, nor the institutional form preferred by the voters, were known yet, the article continued, but "the community of Italians is worthy, from tomorrow onwards, to take the direction of their own destiny".
The results of the vote count were announced the following day and the newspapers were able to report them on Thursday, June 6, 1946: Corriere della Sera, in its now famous front page, stated in the title "The Italian Republic was born", La Nuova Stampa "Republican Italy", Il Popolo "Referendum: Republic. Constitutional Assembly: Christian Democracy" and La Voce Repubblicana "The Republic was born by the will of the people."
It can be noted, in the pages of the newspapers, the cooperative spirit among the political Parties, united by the goal of achieving the Republic and called upon to work together in the Constitutional Assembly: the socialist Avanti! stated "The Parties are in solidarity with the action of the government" (led by the Christian Democrat De Gasperi) and reported a transcript of a message by the Minister Romita, who said: "the representatives of the local political parties will commit to collaborate patriotically so that the new Italian regime may begin under the best auspices of tranquility". The serious divide that had to be faced was not, in fact, that between parties, but that between monarchical and republican citizens, which the referendum had shown and which La Nuova Stampa underlined, with the title "Strengthening the Unity of the Country"; the appeals to remain calm were frequent in those days, while some violent episodes took place in the country.
Finally, on June 11 the Corte di Cassazione (the Italian Supreme Court) proclaimed the results of the referendum: Italy was officially a Republic.
Technically, the case was not closed yet: some denounced frauds - later also disproved by historians - others asked for invalid votes to be considered in the count, and the Court had to examine the regularity of the elections and referendum, as well as verifying whether the votes for the Republic were the absolute majority even counting the invalid ballots or not.
Ministero dell’Interno, Dipartimento per gli Affari Interni e Territoriali, Archivio Storico delle Elezioni, 2/06/1946, https://elezionistorico.interno.gov.it/index.php?tpel=F&dtel=02/06/1946&tpa=I&tpe=A&lev0=0&levsut0=0&es0=S&ms=S
Presidenza della Repubblica, 2 giugno 1946 – 2 giugno 2016 https://www.quirinale.it/page/2giugno1946-2016
La voce repubblicana: quotidiano del Partito repubblicano italiano, June 1, 1946 http://digitale.bnc.roma.sbn.it/tecadigitale/giornale/CFI0376440/1946/giugno/1
Il popolo: giornale del mattino, n. 127, June 1, 1946 http://digitale.bnc.roma.sbn.it/tecadigitale/giornale/CFI0375871/1946/n.127
L’Unità, May 31, 1946, p. 1 https://archive.org/details/unita_1946-05-31
L’Unità, June 1, 1946, p.1 https://archive.org/details/unita_1946-06-01/mode/2up
Unknown Author, “La repubblica vincerà con oltre il 75% dei voti”, L’Unità, June 1, 1946, p.1 https://archive.org/details/unita_1946-06-01/mode/2up
Avanti!, May 31, 1946, p.1 https://avanti.senato.it/avanti/js/pdfjs-dist/web/viewer.html?file=/avanti/files/reader.php?f%3DAvanti%201896-1993%20PDF/Avanti-Lotto2/CFI0422392_19460531_130.pdf#search=referendum&page=2
Autore sconosciuto, ““Chiusa la campagna elettorale – comincia la febbre dell’attesa”, Avanti!, May 31, 1946, p.1 https://avanti.senato.it/avanti/js/pdfjs-dist/web/viewer.html?file=/avanti/files/reader.php?f%3DAvanti%201896-1993%20PDF/Avanti-Lotto2/CFI0422392_19460531_130.pdf#search=referendum&page=2
Burzio, Filippo, “Il popolo italiano alle urne”, June 1, 1946, La Nuova Stampa, p.1 http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,1/articleid,0040_01_1946_0129_0001_24621951/
Autore Sconosciuto, “La democrazia ha già vinto”, La Nuova Stampa, June 4, 1946 http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,1/articleid,0040_01_1946_0131_0001_24609977/
Corriere della Sera, June 6, 1946, p.1 https://www.corriere.it/extra-per-voi/2016/05/03/quando-l-italia-si-scopri-repubblicana-2d12b5a2-115b-11e6-950d-3d35834ec81d_preview.shtml?reason=unauthenticated&cat=1&cid=pdK_nIdK&pids=FR&credits=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.corriere.it%2Fextra-per-voi%2F2016%2F05%2F03%2Fquando-l-italia-si-scopri-repubblicana-2d12b5a2-115b-11e6-950d-3d35834ec81d.shtml
Il popolo : giornale del mattino, n. 131, June 6, 1946, p. 1 http://digitale.bnc.roma.sbn.it/tecadigitale/giornale/CFI0375871/1946/n.131
La voce repubblicana : quotidiano del Partito repubblicano italiano, June 6, 1946, http://digitale.bnc.roma.sbn.it/tecadigitale/giornale/CFI0376440/1946/giugno/15
Autore Sconosciuto, “Non repubblica di classe ma di popolo”, Avanti!, June 7, 1946, p. 1 https://avanti.senato.it/avanti/js/pdfjs-dist/web/viewer.html?file=/avanti/files/reader.php?f%3DAvanti%201896-1993%20PDF/Avanti-Lotto2/CFI0422392_19460607_137.pdf#search=referendum
Autore Sconosciuto, “Rinsaldare l’unità del Paese, La Nuova Stampa, June 6, 1946, p.1 http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,1/articleid,0040_01_1946_0133_0001_24622081/
Autore Sconosciuto, “I risultati del referendum proclamati dalla Cassazione”, La Nuova Stampa, June 11, 1946, p. 1 http://www.archiviolastampa.it/component/option,com_lastampa/task,search/mod,libera/action,viewer/Itemid,3/page,1/articleid,0040_01_1946_0137_0001_24622214/
Autore sconosciuto, “Sette storie sul referendum del 2 giugno 1946”, Il Post, 2 June 2, 2016, https://www.ilpost.it/2016/06/02/referendum-del-2-giugno-1946-aneddoti/
Autore Sconosciuto, “La Suprema Corte ha concluso i suoi lavori”, L’Unità, June 18, 1946, p. 1 https://archive.org/details/unita_1946-06-18/mode/2up
Autore Sconosciuto, “Ed ora, al lavoro”, L’Unità, June 19, 1946, p. 1 https://archive.org/details/unita_1946-06-19/mode/2up