In existence for over a thousand years, the Papal States, also referred to as the Pontifical States, were ruled by the Pope (a temporal ruler) at the time that the United States declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. The first official contact between the two entities occurred in 1784, the first U.S. consul was sent to Rome in 1797, and diplomatic relations were established when the first U.S. diplomatic representative was accredited to the Papal States in 1848. The U.S. maintained a legation in Rome until the Papal States were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.
The first act of official recognition by the Papal States of the United States occurred on December 15, 1784, when American representatives in Paris were approached by the papal nuncio and told that the Papal States “opened the ports of Civita Vecchia on the Mediterranean and Ancona on the Adriatic, to the ships of the young republic of America.”
Although U.S. representation in Rome was not elevated to diplomatic status for nearly a half century, U.S. consuls enjoyed unusual privileges in the Papal States. According to Howard R. Murrow, historian of U.S.-Italian diplomatic relations, U.S. consuls in Rome “were received at all formal functions on the same footing with full diplomatic representatives of other nations.”
The first representative of the Papal States in the United States was Count Ferdinando Lucchesi, who was also the first representative of the Two Sicilies in the United States, and whose exequatur as Consul General of the Papal States at Washington D.C. was signed by U.S. President John Quincy Adams on May 30, 1826. Consular officers from the Papal States were stationed in various parts of the United States down to at least 1867.
The United States established diplomatic relations with the Papal States when Jacob L. Martin was received in Rome on August 19, 1848, as the first U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Near the Papal States. Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter, and Lewis Cass was accredited on November 19, 1849, as the new U.S. Chargé d’Affaires. On November 9, 1854, Cass presented his credentials as U.S. Minister Resident to the Pontifical States.
The U.S. Legation in Rome was established in 1848 when the first U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Jacob L. Martin presented his credentials on August 19, 1848.
The American mission to the Papal States closed in 1867 after Congress refused to fund the mission any longer. There were several reasons for this, ranging from religious feeling to domestic politics in the United States to American sympathies for the Italian unification movement.
The aftermath of the Franco-Austrian War brought about a series of plebiscites in the northern Italian states. By going to the ballot box, the states voted to join Piedmont-Sardinia, with the ultimate goal of unifying the entire peninsula. It should be noted that Piedmont-Sardinia was one of the more powerful states in the peninsula, as well as having one of the most liberal political systems. Garibaldi’s march to “liberate” the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860 brought the southern peninsula into the fold, and the new Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed on March 17, 1861, with the royal family of Piedmont-Sardinia as the new ruling monarchs of Italy.
The United States officially recognized the Kingdom of Italy when it accepted the credentials of Chevalier Joseph Bertinatti as Minister Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Italy on April 11, 1861.
French troops were the main barrier to Italian occupation of the Papal States after 1867; however, when Prussia declared war upon France in the summer of 1870, the Italians took advantage of the situation. With French resources allocated to the struggle of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoleon III ordered his troops out of the Italian peninsula. The Italians entered the Papal States in September 1870 and, through the backing of a plebiscite held in early October, annexed the Papal States and Rome to the Kingdom of Italy.
When the Kingdom of Italy moved its seat of government from Turin to Florence in 1865, the U.S. Legation followed. During the summer of 1871, the Italian capital moved from Florence to Rome, reflecting the completion of unification. George P. Marsh, as U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary, oversaw the move of the U.S. Legation from Turin to Florence in 1865 and from Florence to Rome in 1871.
It is important to note that when the first U.S. diplomatic representatives arrived in Rome, the United States was one of the few countries represented that did not have ties to the Pope as spiritual head of the nation. (i.e. the U.S. was one of the few secular powers with diplomats in Rome.) Then-U.S. Secretary of State James Buchanan wrote to the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in 1848 that
“Your efforts, therefore, will be devoted exclusively to the cultivation of the most friendly civil relations with the papal government, and to the extension of the commerce between the two countries. You will carefully avoid even the appearance of interfering in ecclesiastical questions, whether these relate to the United States or any other portion of the world. It might be proper, should you deem it advisable, to make these views known, on some suitable occasion, to the papal government, so that there may be no mistake or misunderstanding on the subject.”
During the early years of the republic, the United States sought to promote trade abroad and to ensure that American vessels, both public and private, would be welcomed in ports around the world. Therefore, the Papal States’ recognition of the United States early-on was beneficial to U.S. trade and commerce.