Mr. King to Mr. Seward.
Sir: In the brief despatch which I had the honor to address to the Secretary of State, under date of February 11th, referring to the action taken by the House of Representatives on the rumored closing or removal of “ the Protestant church meeting at the American embassy in Rome, I contented myself with a simple denial of the alleged fact, reserving for a future communication a fuller history of the case. I now submit a detailed statement of the matter, for the information of the department and of the public.
In Wheaton’s Elements of International Law, sixth edition, page 304, the existing rule as to freedom of religious worship is thus laid down: “A minister resident in a foreign country is entitled to the privilege of religious worship in his own private chapel, according to the peculiar forms of his national faith, although it may not be generally tolerated by the laws of the state where he resides.” The laws of Rome do not tolerate any other form of public religious worship than such as conform to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church; but the right of any foreign minister at the Papal court to hold religious services under his own roof, and in accordance with the forms of his national or individual faith, has never been questioned or interfered with. Thus the Russian, the Prussian, the American, and other representatives of foreign powers in Rome, have always exercised, and still enjoy unmolested, the freedom of religious worship in the several chapels connected with their respective legations. These chapels, of course, are open to all compatriots of the different ministers desirous of joining in their religious services.
So long as the number of Americans visiting Rome was comparatively limited, it was not difficult for the minister, in securing apartments for himself and family, to make suitable provision as well for a chapel. But of late years, [Page 701] with the very great increase of travel, this has been no easy matter. It has not unfrequently occurred that the congregation worshipping under the minister’s roof has reached the number of 250 or 300, and more than once has been much larger than could be accommodated in the apartments provided. These, of course, once set apart and suitably furnished for religious worship, could be used for no other purpose, and hence it has followed that the largest and best rooms in the minister’s residence were practically inaccessible to him except on Sundays and holydays.
In 1859, I think, while Mr. Stockton was minister resident here, Grace church in Rome was regularly organized, and placed under the jurisdiction of the presiding bishop of the American Episcopal church. It is under the auspices of this organization that religious worship has since been conducted, in connection with the American legation in Rome. In the spring of 1865, the Rev. Dr. T. B. Lyman, formerly of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, was regularly elected by the wardens and vestry of Grace church as their rector. He accepted the charge, entered upon his trust in the fall of the same year, and has since continued to discharge its duties to the general acceptation of all who united in the services.
During the winter of 1865 and 1866 the residence of the American minister was in Salviati palace, and there the congregation of Grace church, as well as all American Protestants desirous of uniting with them, met regularly for purposes of religious worship. At times the number attending was in excess of the accommodation provided, comparatively ample though it was, and attracted a good deal of attention. The holding of Protestant worship under Duke Salviati’s roof, and the crowd thereby gathered, were not agreeable to the proprietor, and he declined to renew the lease of the minister’s apartments for another year, except upon the express condition that there should be no chapel connected therewith. Repeated efforts to obtain other quarters suitable for the minister’s residence, and free from the restriction attached to the Salviati palace, proved unavailing. It was under these circumstances that Dr. Lyman and the vestry of Grace church decided to hire an apartment themselves, separate from the legation, where they could hold religious services; confident in the belief that they would not be interfered with by the local authorities. Rooms were accordingly procured, fitted and furnished, in the Vicolo d’Alibert, a central and convenient locality, and there, since early in November, our American fellow-citizens have assembled for public worship, and still continue to assemble without let or hindrance.
The English, who annually flock to Rome in large numbers, have been accustomed these 40 years past to hold religious services, in accordance with the forms of their national church, in a large building just outside the Porto del Popolo. They have never been interfered with by the authorities. During the last five or six years the Scotch Presbyterians, perhaps 30 or 40 in number, have met for purposes of religious worship in a private house within the walls of Rome. A few months since a second Scotch Presbyterian congregation was formed, the line of separation between the two being the same that divides the Established from the Free Kirk of Scotland. This division, and the presence and participation of the Duke of Argyle, who chanced to be here, attracted the notice and led to the interference of the local authorities. It was intimated to the ministers of the two Scotch congregations that their services were contrary to law, and must be held outside the walls. They have transferred them, accordingly, to the building immediately opposite to the one so long occupied by the English Protestants. There, I presume, they will be allowed to meet and worship unquestioned and unmolested.
It was supposed by many that the closing of the American chapel, being apart from the residence of the minister, would necessarily follow that of the Scotch places of worship. To prevent, if possible, a step which I knew would [Page 702] excite a great deal of feeling at home, and subject our countrymen here to much annoyance and inconvenience, and, at the same time, to give ourselves at least the color of right to assemble where we did for religious worship, I directed the arms of the American ligation to be placed over the building in which the American chapel is located,; This seems to have satisfied the requirements or scruples of the authorities, and thus far no one has interfered with us; nor do I believe that we shall be disturbed during the present season.
Thus stands the case at present; but it is not so easy to see what future provision is to be made for the American church in Rome. The authorities may, possibly, hereafter insist upon the rule that it shall be held under the minister’s roof. On the other hand, the minister will always find increasing difficulty in securing apartments that will accommodate his family and himself, and at the same time include suitable provision for a chapel. Very good rooms can be obtained in the same building in which the English church is located, and I have the assurance of the cardinal secretary of state himself that no interference would be attempted with Americans choosing to assemble there for religious worship, even though separate and apart from the legation, but the locality is objected to on the ground that it is outside (though just outside) the walls. One solution, indeed, of the difficulty has been suggested, but I am by no means sanguine that it will find favor in the eyes of Congress. This is to purchase or hire for a term of years a building for legation purposes, including ample accommodation for a chapel. Under such an arrangement there would be no further question as to the right of American Protestants to assemble for public worship within the walls of Rome, while an official residence might be provided suitable to the position of the American representative at the Papal court, and not unworthy the character, dignity, and influence of the American government and people.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.