In 1821 King Vittorio Emanuele I abdicated, leaving the throne to his brother who became King Carlo Felice. However, he was, at that time, in Modena and so it was Prince Carlo Alberto who had to act as regent until he returned. That year a revolutionary movement took up the tricolor and demanded a constitutional monarchy as well as Savoy leadership in a movement to unify the states of Italy into one kingdom. Prince Carlo Alberto was sympathetic to these ideas and granted the first Piedmontese constitution. The very traditional and conservative King Carlo Felice, however, was certainly not and as soon as he returned to Turin he revoked the constitution, cracked down on dissident elements and sent Prince Carlo Alberto to join the French royal forces in Spain that were fighting to restore the absolutist King Fernando VII to his throne, hoping this would help put his priorities in order.
King Carlo Alberto went to work immediately, tearing down the internal customs borders in his kingdom to advance a free economy. Although sympathetic with some of their nationalist aims, he also suppressed the conspiracy of the adherents of Giuseppe Mazzini because he would not tolerate republicanism or anything which threatened the monarchy. As his later actions would prove, this was not out of any desire for arbitrary power on his part but because King Carlo Alberto (wisely) believed that republicanism would only divide and weaken a country, leaving it vulnerable to attack by more powerful neighbors. He was determined to defend the rights and freedoms of his people but realized that a monarch was necessary to do so rather than placing the freedom of the people at the mercy of self-serving political representatives. Rather, he looked to the examples of the constitutional monarchies of France and Belgium where traditional structures were preserved and individual rights were respected. In his model, however, the role of the monarch would be much more central and carry more authority in the political process.
Things came to a head with the Revolutions of 1848. It was in that critical year that King Carlo Alberto earned his “magnanimous” title by enacting the constitution that would serve throughout the remaining years of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as well as throughout the life of the Kingdom of Italy; the Statuto Albertino. Previously he had remarked that it was his desire for the liberation of Italy that caused him to oppose a constitution but when it became clear to him that this movement was the way of the future, he adeptly got out in front of it and earned the respect and admiration of his people by codifying in law their rights and representation in government while reserving final authority for the King. The Italian tricolor became the new national flag of Piedmont-Sardinia with the arms of the Savoy Royal Family as its central motif. Absolutists from Madrid to St Petersburg condemned the King for taking this action, taking the side of the reformist movement, yet the communist revolutionaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels singled out King Carlo Alberto as their greatest enemy. The absolutists, they argued, were discredited but Carlo Alberto had robbed the revolutionaries of their greatest propaganda weapon by making himself the champion of the freedom of his people.