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by Ambassador (ret.) Peter Bridges

[Following is the text of a lecture delivered on May 22, 2013, to faculty members and students in the Collegio Ghislieri of the University of Pavia in northern Italy.]

I am deeply honored to be invited to speak here this evening. I am grateful to Rector Andrea Belvedere, and above all to Dr. Arianna Arisi Rota for first suggesting I might speak here, for making all the necessary arrangements, and, not least, for making it possible for me to meet earlier today with her colleagues and students. I am equally pleased that our Consul General in Milan, Kyle Scott, could take time to come introduce me at the end of a busy day in Pavia.

There are large gaps in my knowledge of Italy’s history, but I am at least dimly aware of how many illustrious rulers, statesmen, scientists and authors have visited the halls of this Collegio over the past five centuries. I hope that in the coming years, Americans more worthy than myself will be seen here.

What I want to discuss this evening is the relationship between our two countries, Italy and the United States, and in particular how—and why—that relationship developed in the 19th century. At least two personages who visited this honorable Collegio, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II, played a part in that relationship, and I will make further mention of them later.

One main element in the history of our developing bilateral relationship is certainly that of contrast.

On our side of the Atlantic Ocean lay a republic that in 1860, when it was less than a century old, began to split in two, with a bloody civil war soon following. Italy, in contrast, was a country that had become a republic five centuries before Christ, and that finally in 1860 saw most of its territory united for the first time in many centuries.

In America, democracy was flourishing—except for the four million black slaves who comprised more than 12 percent of our total population.

In Italy there was monarchy and no democracy, but Vittorio Emanuele II at least maintained the constitution, the Statuto Albertino of 1848, although elsewhere in Europe governments were autocratic and tyrannical.

In the first decades of the 19th century there was not much contact between America and Italy. It was not the Italians but the Dutch, English, French, Spanish, and Swedes who came to colonize North America in the wake of Cristoforo Colombo and Giovanni da Verrazzano. However, a member of a Genoese family was among the first settlers in Virginia; Albiano Lupo arrived in Jamestown in the year 1610, several decades before two of my own ancestors came to Virginia from England. There are members of Albiano Lupo’s family in America today, including my friend and former colleague Samuel Lupo, who served as an American ambassador some years ago.

Not many Italians followed Albiano Lupo to America in the next two centuries. Some of those who did come played positive roles in our early history. A number of Italians from Virginia and other colonies fought in our war for independence from England that began in 1775. Before the war, Thomas Jefferson, the main author of our Declaration of Independence and our third President, had a neighbor and friend in Virginia named Filippo Mazzei. Mazzei was a native of Tuscany who tried, without success, to introduce viniculture to Virginia. During the Revolutionary War, Jefferson sent Mazzei to Italy and elsewhere in Europe as an envoy of the new State of VIrginia.

Jefferson himself was an early American visitor to Italy. In 1787, when he was our envoy to France, Jefferson paid a long visit to Piedmont, Lombardy, and Liguria. He had dreamed of visiting Italy since he was a boy. His journey now had a serious purpose, to lessen America’s economic dependence on Britain and France by encouraging the development of American trade with the Kingdom of Sardinia. He also had a secret reason to visit Piedmont. Rice was cultivated in several of our Southern states, but the quality was inferior to Piedmontese rice. The laws of Piedmont, however, protected its rice; the penalty for exporting rice seed from Piedmont was death. Jefferson was not deterred; he filled the pockets of his coat with Piedmontese rice seeds, and took the seeds illegally back to France. One wonders what might have happened if the Piedmontese customs guards had discovered what he was carrying.

Meanwhile, some Italians were traveling to America. As is well known, Giuseppe Garibaldi found a place of refuge in New York for several months, after the downfall of the Roman Republic in 1849. However, when Garibaldi came to New York there were at most several hundred Italians in the city. The U.S. census of 1850 showed only 3,645 Italians among the more than two million people in America who had been born abroad. (The greatest number of the new Americans had come from Great Britain, Germany, and, most recently, Ireland.)

Garibaldi left the United States in 1851, but that did not end his interest in America. The story has been told more than once how, after civil war began in America, he kindly offered to become the commander-in-chief of our Northern forces. Garibaldi might well have done better than some of the generals whom Abraham Lincoln employed; Garibaldi knew how to fight, and how to lead men. But he was also a man who considered himself on a level with monarchs and heads of governments, and one suspects that his relationship with President Lincoln would have proven to be as difficult as Lincoln’s relationship with other generals like George McClellan, who was Lincoln’s commander-in-chief for far too long. In the end, Lincoln offered Garibaldi a commission as a major general, and Garibaldi refused it, which was perhaps a fortunate thing.

Although in the end Garibaldi did not fight in our Civil War, a number of other Italians did. A regiment was formed in New York City that was called the Garibaldi Guard; many of its members had fought with Garibaldi in Italy. An Italian American named Francesco Spinola formed four regiments for the Union Army, and he himself fought heroically during the war. Much later, in 1887, Spinola was the first Italian American elected to the U.S. Congress. But the most heroic figure among the Italians in the war was Count Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who had been a Piedmontese cavalry officer and whose bravery as a cavalry commander in the American war has been described by a number of historians.

What is less well known about Giuseppe Garibaldi and America is that in the spring of 1860, before Garibaldi sailed to Sicily to attack the Bourbon army with his Thousand, he paid a private call on the American envoy in Turin, John Moncure Daniel. Garibaldi was incensed by the fact that Vittorio Emanuele II was willing to cede Garibaldi’s home city of Nice, and indeed all of the King’s own homeland, Savoy, to France, in exchange for Napoleon III’s promise to send a French army to help liberate those Italians who remained under the rule of Austria.

Garibaldi asked Daniel whether the United States would give assistance or protection to Nice in case the city should declare independence from both France and the then Kingdom of Sardinia. This is the sort of question that, if it were put to a diplomatic envoy today, the envoy would immediately refer to his own government by telegram. In 1860, though, there was no trans-Atlantic telegraph, and it would have taken weeks for Daniel to report Garibaldi’s approach and then receive instructions from Washington. Daniel therefore replied to Garibaldi immediately that it was American policy to recognize all governments that succeeded in establishing themselves and that could be regarded as responsible organizations. He did not think that Nice would have any chance of establishing its independence.

Garibaldi said that that was the reply he had expected, but he had thought it important to explore all possibilities of assistance for Nice. He now turned his attention elsewhere.  Less than a month later, on May 5, he sailed for Sicily with his Thousand (who included several American volunteers). One can only imagine what might have happened if Daniel had encouraged Garibaldi to believe that America might help to defend a Nice in rebellion.

As mentioned, at the time of Garibaldi’s sojourn in New York there were relatively few Italians in the United States. Italians were, however, beginning to arrive, and an early impetus for this was the discovery of gold in California in 1848. The “gold rush” brought at at least three hundred thousand people to California, including a number of Italians. The files of the Archivio Storico Diplomatico, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, contain a list dating from 1850 with the names of several hundred Italians in California who had contributed to a fund for the families of Piedmontese soldiers who had been killed or wounded in the recent war with Austria. The contributors were listed by the places where they were living, some in the city of San Francisco but many in small mining camps that no longer exist today. It was the beginning of the Italian community in California that over a century and a half has contributed so much to the culture and prosperity of that great state.

It seems that even Vittorio Emanuele II may once have entertained thoughts of moving to America. One of his early biographers reports that in the wake of the Italian defeat by the Austrians at Novara, in 1849, the new King told his prime minister, Massimo d’Azeglio, that the Austrians were pressing him to rescind the Statuto—and that rather than do so, he would go to America. The King was a great hunter, and no doubt he would have found the hunting good in America, even though we lack his favorite prey, the stambecco or ibex.

Let us now go back in time to the early years of American independence, to consider the governmental relationship, or rather relationships, that began to develop between us.

During our first decades as an independent republic, Americans were suspicious of the foreign world. We had reason to be so. In Europe, governments were decidedly undemocratic and did not want to see the American experiment in government repeated in their own countries. They were happy to see their own republican revolutionaries take refuge in the United States. Indeed they sometimes helped them to do so.  In the 1850s, as one can read in the archives in Rome, the government of the Kingdom of Sardinia loaded several dozen political activists onto naval frigates that carried them across the Atlantic and offloaded them in Boston and in New York.

Because of this American suspicion about the foreign world, we maintained—or sought to maintain—a relatively low level of diplomatic activity in other countries.  Until 1893 there were no American ambassadors or embassies. Our diplomatic posts were legations, headed not by ambassadors but by envoys with the rank of minister and sometimes only that of chargé d’affaires.

There was perhaps a certain amount of self-deception in this. If not politically or strategically, America was heavily involved with the rest of the world in trade and commerce, and in the course of our first century of independence we opened many consulates in foreign cities to assist American merchants and American shipping. In 1860 there were only 47 American legations, but there were American consuls in 305 foreign cities, ten of them in Italy.

For as long as Italy remained politically divided, our diplomatic and consular posts were of course accredited to the several different governments on this peninsula.  The first American diplomatic or consular post on Italian soil was the American consulate that opened in 1796 in Naples, then the capital of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. Our consulate in Genoa, the chief port in the Kingdom of Sardinia, opened two years later, in 1798. Soon American merchant ships were carrying to Italy an increasing amount of American exports.

We sent our first diplomatic agent to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1840.  He was an obscure gentleman from Pennsylvania named Hezekiah Gold Rogers.  Our first envoy to the Holy See, Jacob Martin, arrived in Rome in August 1848 but he died only days after his arrival and so did not see the birth of the Repubblica Romana.

The Italians were a little slower in sending diplomatic and consular agents to America. It was only in 1817 that the Kingdom of Sardinia opened its first post in the United States–a consulate in Savannah, Georgia, an important seaport then as well as now.

Unfortunately, our country has not always been as careful as it might be in choosing its envoys to go abroad. As regards Italy, I am of course speaking only of past centuries. Mr. Rogers, our first envoy to the Kingdom of Sardinia, was found to be mentally ill soon after his arrival in Turin in 1840, and was put in the care of the chief nurse of Turin’s insane asylum. To make things worse, the new American consul in Genoa, John Bailey, turned out to be a notorious bankrupt. The Sardinian ministry of foreign affairs instructed its chargé d’affaires in Washington, Count Augusto Avogadro di Collobiano, to make clear to the Department of State that the government of the Kingdom believed it was wrong to leave American interests in Piedmont in the hands of a madman and a bankrupt. Our government agreed, but some time passed before the two men were removed from office.

In those years there was almost always a significant difference between the backgrounds of American diplomats and their European counterparts—and I am not speaking of mental or financial health.

Some European states made early steps toward training young men for diplomacy. A work on this subject by Dr. Arisi Rota notes that Frederick II of Prussia opened a school to train diplomats as early as 1747. A royal decree of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1849 created a rigorous examination for those who aspired to reach the higher levels of Piedmontese diplomacy. But the fact remained that European envoys were in the main members of the nobility like Collobiano, whose family were among the largest landowners in Piedmont.

American envoys were not noble, although in some cases they, too, were rich. Most of them came from what one might call practical backgrounds. They had often been bankers or businessmen or governors of American states. Few of them spoke French, the language of diplomacy. (French was the language that the ministry in Turin used in communicating with its own envoys, until the middle of the nineteenth century.) But the American diplomats probably tended to have a better understanding of their own country and its economy, and were better equipped to advance their country’s interests abroad, than a European count or duke whose background lay largely in polite society.

One should not exaggerate the importance of the official relationships, in the years leading up to 1860, between our government and those of the Savoy Kingdom, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. It was France, Austria, and Great Britain that counted most, politically and strategically, for the Italians in those years. Nevertheless, trade with America was becoming important. In 1856 our legation in Turin reported to Washington that the United States had become the third largest trading partner of the Kingdom of Sardinia, after France and Britain.

There was also the question of unofficial human contacts. Ralph Waldo Emerson said in 1843 that “we go to school to Europe.” That had been true since the beginning of the American republic and in 1843—and later—it remained true, in several ways. Americans still depended heavily on the cultural heritage of Europe. To be well educated an American should know not only Shakespeare and Goethe but Caesar, Dante, and indeed Manzoni. (The first American translation of I Promessi Sposi appeared in New York as early as 1834.) In addition, a number of Americans studied at European universities, and well-to-do Americans liked to come travel in Europe, including of course Italy.

What was equally important, for Americans more than for Italians, was the number of American artists and writers who came to Italy to learn and to work. The huge bronze statue of Freedom that stands today on the top of our Capitol in Washington was the work of Thomas Crawford, who spent in Rome his entire life as an artist. Perhaps the best-known American sculptor of the 19th century was Hiram Powers, who lived and worked in Florence from 1837 until he died in 1873. Nor were all these artists men; a number of American women sculptors worked in Rome in the 19th century.

As regards literature, some of the great American novels of the 19th century take place in Italy and are the work of authors who lived, or at least traveled extensively, in Italy. One thinks, for example, of The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and novels by Henry James like Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. An American named Francis Marion Crawford, who was born at Bagni di Lucca and died at Sorrento, wrote many novels that were set in Italy. Crawford is almost forgotten today and his novels are perhaps not great works of art, but for a time they made Crawford the best-selling author in the United States. These works did much to insert thoughts of Italy into the minds of American readers.

Crawford liked to portray the nobility. Other American writers—and the American press—hoped to see political progress in Italy. Soon after the troops of the Kingdom put an end to Papal rule in 1870, the New York Times wrote that “…under a limited monarchy, Italy may reach a prosperity and liberty which she never knew under the Roman Empire, or the stormy dissensions of the Middle Ages, or the degrading Governments of modern times.”

Some American works were widely read in Italy. It has been said that all that many Italians in the 19th century knew, or thought they knew, about America was what they read in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. The American novel that enjoyed perhaps the greatest success in Italy was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that dramatic description of the evils of slavery in America written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book was published in America in 1852, and the same year Italian editions appeared in both Milan and Turin. Within two years there had been nine Italian editions.

Again as regards the movement of people, it is true that more American intellectuals came to Italy during the Ottocento than Italians to America.  However, one interesting native of the Veneto came to America in 1805 after writing the librettos for more than two dozen operas, including Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte. This was Lorenzo Da Ponte, who became the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia College—today Columbia University in New York—and who opened in New York an opera house that was the predecessor of today’s Metropolitan Opera.

Beyond the field of artistic endeavor, both the Italian republican revolutionaries who came to America and the Americans who wrote home from Italy helped to heighten American awareness of what was happening—or not happening—in Italy. Giovine Italia, whose creation Mazzini announced in 1831, was imitated in our country by the creation in 1845 of Young America, which for some time played an important role in the left wing of the American Democratic Party. Margaret Fuller, the famous author of the work Woman in the Nineteenth Century, became still more famous for her first-hand reports in the New York Tribune on the Roman Republic and its downfall in 1849.

To turn again to the question of official relationships, let me mention two American envoys to Italy in whom I have taken a particular interest. The successive service of these two men in Italy spanned almost three decades, from 1853 to 1882. Both of them were exceptionally able individuals—and they were totally unlike one another in their views of American politics and society.

These two men were John Moncure Daniel, mentioned earlier, and his successor, George Perkins Marsh. Daniel was a Southerner, a pro-slavery racist from Virginia, who returned from Italy to Virginia when our Civil War began in 1861, and who during that war became the most influential newspaper editor in the Southern Confederacy. Marsh, on the other hand, was an abolitionist, a strong opponent of slavery, from the Northern state of Vermont, whom Lincoln sent in 1861 as our first minister to the new Kingdom of italy, and who remained as our envoy to Italy for 21 years, until his death in 1882 at the age of eighty-one. (This, incidentally, still remains today the longevity record for any chief of an American diplomatic mission.)

John Daniel arrived in Turin in 1853, accredited to what was still not the Kingdom of Italy but that of Sardinia. He was only 28 years old—one of the two youngest persons who have ever become an American chief of mission. Daniel had been, as he was to be later, the editor of a newspaper in Richmond that supported the Democratic Party. He went to Turin in a political appointment, as all our diplomatic appointments were in that age. He had worked hard in the 1852 Presidential electoral campaign to secure the support of voters in Virginia for Franklin Pierce, the candidate of the Democratic party. Pierce was elected President, and Daniel got his legation.

When Daniel arrived in Piedmont, he did not plan to remain there for much more than a year. He wanted to return to Virginia for the Congressional elections of 1854, in which he hoped his newspaper would play an important role, on the national as well as the local level. Soon after he reached Turin, he became the center of a scandal that might have led to his departure not in a year or two but within a few days.

The source of the scandal was a private letter that our new envoy wrote to an intimate friend at Richmond. He emphasized to his friend that what he wrote was strictly confidential, and that the friend should not share the letter with anyone else. Daniel was unmarried, and he was lonely; but he wrote that the young women of Piedmont were not nearly as pretty as the girls in Virginia. Worse, he said, everyone in Turin stank of garlic, and the diplomats and officials with whom he was meeting had titles of nobility that were as long as his arm, but heads that were totally empty.

Unfortunately for John Daniel, the full text of his “confidential” letter soon appeared in the newspapers of Richmond, New York, and Turin. There was of course a strong reaction. He assumed he would be challenged to a duel, and he was prepared to fight; he had fought several duels in America. But no one challenged him. He offered to resign his post, but President Pierce in Washington did not think that necessary. The Foreign Minister in Turin, former general Giuseppe Dabormida, was surprised when Daniel did not resign, but he did not request the American’s departure, as he might well have done.

Subsequently Daniel forgot about returning to Virginia for the American elections. He stayed on in Turin for more than seven years, years of remarkable developments in both America and Italy. He acquired a good knowledge of the Italian language and he made a number of friends in high places, including a lady who was sometimes called, behind her back, the Princess Brouhaha. She was Marie, Countess de Solms, a grand-niece of Napoleon I and therefore a cousin of Louis Napoleon, who had lately made himself the Emperor Napoleon III and who had expelled her from France for criticizing his regime. In Piedmont, it was whispered, the princess’s friends and the high places included the King and the King’s bed.

It was, also, incidentally, whispered that Vittorio Emanuele II tired of the lady and that she then became the good friend of Umberto Rattazzi. Indeed she married Rattazzi. That did not prevent her from publishing, when Rattazzi was Prime Minister and Florence had become the national capital, a novel called Bicheville that was a thinly disguised, satirical portrait of Florence and Florentine society. One result was that Rattazzi was challenged to a duel. He did not accept.  He was after all the Prime Minister. But you, as Italians, no doubt know much more about these things than any American could ever hope to learn.

In any case we must return to our subject, which is American-Italian relations and not who slept in whose bed—although, to be frank, as the years passed there were those who said that, in effect, Italy became a satellite if not a succubo of France.

One should not ignore the American relationship with the Papal States. Although an American legation had opened in Rome in 1848, no apostolic delegate was sent to the United States until 1893. However, in 1853 Pius IX sent Bishop Gaetano Bedini, who had been Papal governor of Bologna in 1849, to the United States on a visit that lasted seven months. The visit was a disaster. Bedini was attacked as the “butcher of Bologna” because of the massacre that had taken place there when he was governor. It was alleged that he planned secretly to install a kind of Papal dictatorship in the United States. There were riots and an attempt to assassinate him, and the result of the visit was to increase still more the anti-Catholic sentiment that had been developing in the United States.

Meanwhile at Turin, John Moncure Daniel found in the Kingdom of Sardinia—as one reads in both his formal reports and his personal letters—a number of things to appreciate. He reported to Washington at length on the Sardinian army, which he found well trained and well equipped and which, with fifty thousand men, was far larger than the American army. In the naval sphere, the government of the Kingdom permitted the U.S. Navy to establish at La Spezia the depot for our Mediterranean squadron.

Daniel the diplomat had never been a soldier, but he seems to have been a good observer of soldiers. He reported to Washington, just after Garibaldi had sailed from Genoa with his little expedition of a Thousand, that if Garibaldi succeeded in landing in Sicily he would unquestionably be victorious. One doubts whether any other foreign observer in Italy at that time was so sure of the outcome in the Mezzogiorno.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a great crisis was looming in America. The President who took office in 1857 was James Buchanan. He had served as the American minister in London and as U.S. Secretary of State, but he was a poor leader. Whether a better leader could have prevented the conflict between North and South remains a question that is much debated; but it is clear that Buchanan did nothing to resolve the problems.

Probably few Americans believed that war would come, even if the Southern states left the Union. Certainly few foreign observers predicted war. The Italian minister to the United States, Count Giuseppe Bertinatti, at some point met a wealthy American widow, whom he later married. She had inherited from her first husband a large plantation and a number of slaves in Mississippi, and one assumes that this played some part in forming Bertinatti’s views on the American scene. However, Bertinatti remained in Washington during the war, and his reporting to his ministry was factual and his relations with the administration of Abraham Lincoln seem to have been cordial. Indeed William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, wrote to the President that Bertinatti was “a warm friend.” When in 1864, the fourth year of war, Bertinatti received a promotion, Lincoln invited him to the White House to offer his congratulations. Lincoln told Bertinatti that although there had been differences during the war between the United States and certain governments, “…at no stage in this unhappy fraternal war, has the King or the people of Italy faltered in addressing to us the language of respect, confidence and friendship.”

Lincoln came late to statesmanship. He was the son of a very poor family, and he was almost entirely self-educated. He read law, and became a lawyer. During the Civil War, he spent evenings reading about military matters, since he realized that as the commander-in-chief he knew much less than he should about armies and warfare. He read Shakespeare, and liked to recite passages from Hamlet and Macbeth that he knew by heart. What he read about modern Europe seems to have been mainly reports in the press. Lincoln was, however, an experienced politician, and he taught himself to be a good diplomat. He dealt wisely, and often with a sense of humor, with European governments and their envoys in Washington, including the minister from Italy.

On the eve of the conflict in America, when he had been in the White House for less than a month, Lincoln had taken a step that had a positive influence on Italian attitudes toward the United States. On April 13, 1861, he informed Bertinatti that the United States officially recognized the establishment the previous month of the new Kingdom of Italy. It was only two months later, in June, that Italy’s big friend France followed suit. America’s quick recognition of the new Kingdom was well received in Turin.

Let us return to 1860, before Lincoln went to the White House. John Daniel had then been our envoy in Italy for seven years. The extinction of the Papal States and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies mean the closure of the American legations in Rome and Naples. Daniel now found himself the head of the only American diplomatic mission in Italy. He had acquired an excellent reputation in Washington, as an analyst of events both in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. He hoped that he would soon  be confirmed as Minister to the Kingdom of Italy. But then, in December 1860, the State of South Carolina seceded from the American Union and other Southern states followed suit. Our Union was splitting in two just as Italy unified. Daniel thought it was time to return to Virginia, and he quickly did so  He played a significant role as an editor in Richmond, capital of the new Confederacy, until 1865, when he died at the age of 39, just as the war was ending.

During our Civil War, the main diplomatic problem for Lincoln and his administration was that European governments might officially recognize, and give assistance to, the Southern Confederacy. The British came close to doing so. They recognized the Confederacy as a legitimate belligerent, and for a time they permitted the construction in British shipyards of ships for the Confederate navy. The best known of these ships was the Alabama, which was completed in 1862 and which over the next two years captured or destroyed 65 Northern merchant vessels. The British government finally prohibited the construction of more ships for the South after the American envoy in London suggested the possibility that America might go to war with Britain.

France, too, took an unfriendly approach toward the American Union.  Several decades earlier, in 1823, U.S. President James Monroe, in what became known as the Monroe Doctrine, had warned that while the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies in the Western Hemisphere, it would not tolerate an attempt by a European power to interfere with any independent American republic.

Now, though, our Union was preoccupied with civil war–and Napoleon III wanted to create a new American empire for France–and the Mexican government created a pretext for European intervention when in 1861 it stopped paying interest on its foreign debts. The British, French, and Spanish all sent troop contingents to Mexico.

Prime Minister Rattazzi was asked in Parliament whether Italy, too, would send troops. He gave a vague response, saying that Italy would act according to its national interest. The British and Spanish soon withdrew their small contingents of troops, and Italy sent none. The French remained, took over the Mexican government, and created an “empire” under Maximilian, a Hapsburg prince. When our civil war ended, the United States put pressure on France to withdraw its troops, the Mexican empire collapsed, and in 1867 Maximilian ended before a Mexican firing squad. Italy, fortunately for its relationship with the United States, and despite its close relationship with France, had played no role in the Mexican adventure.

Let us turn now to the figure of George Perkins Marsh, who as our new envoy had arrived in Turin in 1861 and who was to move later, when the government did, to Florence and then to Rome, in the course of his twenty-one years of service in Italy.

Marsh was no neophyte in diplomacy when he reached Turin. He had served earlier, and very creditably, as our envoy to the Ottoman Empire. He had been an influential member of the U.S. Congress. He was also a scholar and author, who in 1864, when he was in Turin, published in America the first major work about the environment by an American author: Man and Nature.  I once wrote a small essay about Marsh, but if you want to know more about the man you should read the magnificent biography written by David Lowenthal, a scholar who I believe is well known in this country, which was published in the United States some years ago.

During our Civil War there was never a time, to my knowledge, when the government of the Kingdom of Italy considered recognizing officially our Southern rebels, the Confederate States of America. However, as an American historian commented some years ago, there was more pro-South sympathy in the Italian political class than most people realize. Moreover, as Marsh commented in a confidential report to Washington, Prime Minister Umberto Rattazzi was under the strong influence of Napoleon III.

In the end neither France nor Britain, nor any other government in Europe, recognized the government of the Confederacy. However, in the first years of our war the North suffered a number of serious defeats on the battlefield.  These defeats made European leaders wonder whether, if final Northern victory was impossible, they should recognize the South. If France had done so, one may suspect that Italy would have followed its lead.

There was perhaps an even stronger temptation in Papal Rome to extend diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy. There were those in the Curia who saw a certain parallel between the efforts of the Papal States to maintain their independence in the face of attacks from the North, and the struggle of our own Southern states to do the same.

The personality of Pius IX also, it seems, played a part. The Pope had lost almost all of his earthly kingdom, and his increasingly reactionary regime seriously damaged his worldly reputation. He dreamed, it is said, of regaining his reputation by acting as a mediator between North and South in America. This would have meant at least implicit recognition of the South as an independent state, and Lincoln could never agree to that.

However, when in 1863 Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, sent a letter to Pius IX, the Pope replied, in a letter addressed to “the Honorable President of the Confederate States of America.” That seemed to amount to official recognition of the Confederacy as a legitimate government. Later, when the United States minister in Rome, Rufus King, called on Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli, the Papal Secretary of State, Antonelli confirmed to him that the Pope had written to Davis simply to express his desire for peace in America. Antonelli told King that the letter, to quote our envoy’s report to Washington, “was a simple act of courtesy and devoid of any political design.”

When the Civil War ended in 1865 with the defeat of the South, the North and South together had lost more than 600,000 men. This was a huge loss, almost ten percent of our adult male population (not including black slaves, few of whom had an opportunity to enlist as soldiers). In relative terms, our losses in the Civil War were greater than the horrendous loss of 460,000 Italian soldiers during the First World War, and equal to the losses suffered by France in that war.

In the wake of our war we needed, among other things, immigrants, and large numbers of immigrants began to arrive in the United States. Even in the 1870s, however, the influx of people from Italy still remained small, around ten thousand a year. Then the number began to grow, rapidly. We estimate that between 1880 and 1920, four million Italians came to the United States. Many or most of them came because conditions had not improved for them in Italy after 1870. They hoped to find in America the promised land of happiness and prosperity. But, to be frank, while they knew how to work hard, many of them lacked the skills that might have permitted them to prosper, and they found themselves the objects of cruel discrimination, as had the immigrants from Ireland, most notably, before them.

There are a number of shocking reports in the Archivio Storico Diplomatico in Rome, made by Italian ambassadors in Washington about the Italians who had been lynched—tortured and hanged or burned to death—by mobs in our country. There were a number of these infamous cases, the best known being that of the eleven Italians who were killed by a mob in New Orleans in 1891.

It took two and three generations for the Italian Americans to produce the successes in business, government, science, and the arts that we know today–people like Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia of our Supreme Court, or Leon Panetta, who until recently was our Secretary of Defense.   There are also local successes that may be less well known. For example, in the high country of Colorado where I spend half the year, several of our most prosperous ranchers are the grandchildren of poor Italians who went to Colorado to work for low wages in the coal mines.

Let me end here, and see if you have any questions that I might answer.  I can only hope that in my remarks I have told you some things you did not know about the links between America and Italy–links that were so slow to develop during the centuries after Columbus and Verrazzano, and that are so important today.End.


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Peter Bridges
Peter Bridges
Ambassador Bridges, a U. S. Foreign Service officer from 1957 to 1986, received assignments abroad at Panama, Moscow, Prague, and Rome, in addition to a posting as US envoy to Somalia. He is the author of Safirka: An American Envoy, a memoir of his service in Somalia, and Pen of Fire: John Moncure Daniel, the first biography of an American diplomat who became the most influential Confederate editor, both published by Kent State University Press. In 2012 Kent State published his Donn Piatt: Gadfly in the Gilded Age, the biography of an American diplomat who became famous as a Washington editor in the 1870s. The book has been selected for inclusion in the ADST-DACOR series on Diplomats and Diplomacy.


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