|Lincoln Appoints a Minister to the Papal States|
President Lincoln signs his authorization to affix the Seal of the United States to a politically important appointment: American minister to Pope Pius IX. The appointee later served as Postmaster General under Andrew Johnson.
Abraham Lincoln. Document Signed as President, appointing Alexander W. Randall as American Minister Resident to Pope Pius IX. Washington, D.C., April 7, 1862. 1 p.
Partial TranscriptPartial TranscriptI hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to the envelope of a letter accrediting Alexander W. Randall Esquire, as Minister Resident of the United States of America near His Holiness Pope Pius IX…
|Location of Origin: North America|
|Primary Classification: Folk Art and Americana : Rare Books / Documents / Ephemera|
|Secondary Classification: Antique Books, Manuscripts, and Maps : Historical Documents, Letters & Autographs|
|Historical Background |
Lincoln’s first appointee to the Papal States had been Rufus King, a prominent Republican newspaperman. Before assuming his post, however, King took a leave of absence to join the Union Army, where he was appointed brigadier general and raised the famed Iron Brigade. King then recommended Alexander W. Randall, a fellow Wisconsin Republican, to replace him in Rome. This Lincoln-signed document formally authorizes the affixing of the U.S. seal to Randall’s appointment. (The appointment document has not been located, per Basler.)
The United States had established diplomatic relations with the Papal States in 1848, during the second year of Pope Pius IX’s tenure (1846-1878). Pius actively pursued the growth of the Church in America, encouraging synods, and creating new dioceses and archdioceses as well as expanding existing ones. This was particularly true in the West, just a year after his election, Pius created the Diocese of Galveston, which encompassed the entire state of Texas. He was also instrumental in the founding of an American College in Rome for future priests, to which he pledged his personal financial support. The Roman Catholic population of the United States almost tripled during his long papacy.
The diplomatic post to the Papal States, territories in Italy ruled by the papacy until 1870, had not been considered of particular political importance to the United States. (In fact, the office had only been raised to the rank of a resident ministry in 1854.) That changed with the advent of the Civil War. Lincoln realized that it was critical to the Union to forestall international recognition of the Confederacy. Though the Papal States had lost four-fifths of their territory during the wars of Italian unification, the Pope still maintained substantial international influence. “The Church of Rome, notwithstanding its difficulties,” Randall wrote to Secretary of State William H. Seward, “wields, as you are aware, an immense power in Europe and the British Empire.” Seward and Randall worked to convince the Pope that the United States and the Holy See enjoyed a “special relationship.” Both entities, Seward implied, were established authorities in difficult circumstances because of rebellion. Cardinal Antonelli, Pius’s secretary of state, assured American officials that the Pope would not interfere in American affairs.
In late 1862, Pius IX wrote to the archbishops of New York and New Orleans - the highest church officials allied, respectively, with the Union and Confederate causes - urging them to promote a peaceful resolution to the Civil War. The request itself was not particularly controversial, but it did place the pontiff squarely in the camp of the “Peace Democrats,” a.k.a. “Copperheads,” many of whom were Catholic immigrants. Confederate president Jefferson Davis saw the letter as an opportunity to gain allies both within the Union and abroad. He wrote a sympathetic response and had it delivered in person to the Pope by an emissary. Pius replied in December of 1863, addressing Davis as the “Illustrious and Honorable … President of the Confederate States of America.” Confederate officials were gleeful. Though Antonelli insisted that the address did not constitute the Pope’s official recognition of the Confederacy, the damage was done as the message did imply a personal acceptance of Confederate legitimacy. That was not an over-reading of the Pope’s sympathies. A British diplomat would later describe a conversation in which the pontiff indicated that “all his sympathies were with the Southern Confederacy and he wished them all success.” Long after the war, General Robert E. Lee is said to have referred to Pius IX as the “only sovereign in Europe who recognized his poor Confederacy.”
The incident fueled anti-Catholic sentiment among Unionists and gave rise to a host of conspiracy theories. After Lincoln’s assassination, some even concluded that the Roman Catholic Church had been behind the killing. It didn’t help when the public learned that Booth accomplice John Surratt had managed to find employment, under a pseudonym, as a guard in the pontifical army. In 1886, Charles Chiniquy, a former priest turned anti-Catholic crusader, published a book contending that the president’s killing had been a plot carried out by Jesuit priests under orders from Pius IX. (He also accused the Church of instigating the 1863 New York draft riots.) Chiniquy claimed an insider’s knowledge: Lincoln had successfully represented him in an 1851 slander case involving a bishop. Lincoln’s victory in court, Chiniquy argued, had earned him the lasting enmity of the Church. Thomas M. Harris, a member of the military tribunal that had tried the Lincoln assassins, followed up Chiniquy’s book with the 1897 pamphlet “Rome’s Responsibility for the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.”
Alexander Williams Randall (1819-1872) was a lawyer, judge and politician from Wisconsin. As governor of Wisconsin (1858-1861), Randall was instrumental in raising and organizing the first Wisconsin volunteer troops for the Union Army. “Camp Randall” in Madison, Wisconsin, was named in his honor. (It was eventually absorbed by the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which named its football stadium after the camp.) Randall next served as Resident Minister to the Papal States, from April 1862 until the fall of 1863. (He had asked for a transfer as early as September 1862, complaining that the pay was too meager.) Lincoln next appointed Randall as assistant Postmaster General; he was elevated to Postmaster General in 1866 by President Andrew Johnson. Randall held the office until 1869, and then moved to New York state where he resumed his law practice.
References:Basler, Roy P. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 8, Appendix II Coppa, Frank J. Politics and the Papacy in the Modern World (ABC-CLIO, 2008) Franco, Massimo. Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the United States… (Random House, 2009) Hennesey, James J. American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States (Galaxy Books, 1983) Nicholson, Jim (U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See). The United States and the Holy See: The Long Road (30DayBooks, 2002) Rowland, Dunbar. Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches (Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History, 1923) Steers, Edward. The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia (HarperCollins, 2010)
Basler, 8:489. Coppa, 39. Coppa, 39. Hennesey, 156. Jefferson Davis: Constitutionalist, 16. Franco, 34-35.
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