Mr. King to Mr. Seward.

No. 86.]

Sir: Recent mails from the United States have brought the rather unlooked for intelligence that the American mission at Rome was about to be closed by Congress; mainly, it would appear, in consequence of the rumored removal of the American chapel from the minister’s residence, within the walls of Rome, to a villa outside. In my despatch (No. 83) of February 18th, I transmitted for the information of the department a detailed account of the proceedings had here, [Page 704] in connection with this subject of Protestant worship in Rome; and I have nothing, at present, to add on that score. There are, however, some considerations which I feel it my duty to submit, and which seem to me conclusive against the policy or expediency of withdrawing the American representative at the Papal court in the present juncture of affairs. I feel the less hesitation in doing this, since I have asked to be transferred from Rome, and do not, therefore, speak from interested motives.

There probably has never been a time when the number of American travellers sojourning in Rome, and of American artists resident here, was so great as it is now, and it may be doubted whether there is a capital in Europe, with the single exception of Paris, where the proportion of Americans, resident and transient, especially during the fall and winter months, is so large as in this imperial city. The presence of an American minister is important to them, since there are numerous occasions and various ways in which he can be of very great service.

I am not, I think, mistaken in the belief that the Papal court is more than ever disposed to cultivate friendly and intimate relations with the United States. I might, in proof of this, instance not only studied and unvarying courtesy and kindness which I myself have always met with, personally and officially, at the hands of the Papal authorities, but the treatment experienced by all of my countrymen who have chanced to visit Rome daring the past few years. Perhaps a still more striking evidence of this friendly disposition is to be found in the action of the Papal authorities at the time of the arrest of John H. Surratt. It will be in the recollection of the honorable Secretary of State, that when, in obedience to his instructions of October 16th, 1866, I inquired of Cardinal Anto-nelli (November 2) whether upon proper indictment, or the usual preliminary proof, Surratt would be delivered up at the request of the State Department, the answer was promptly in the affirmative; and that without waiting for any formal demand on my part, as well as in the absence of an extradition treaty between the governments for the surrender of fugitives from justice, orders were given for the immediate arrest of Surratt, and his being placed in close confinement. This was done with the single purpose of showing the ready disposition of the Papal authorities to comply with the anticipated request of the American government. At the very same time the Italian government, applied to by our minister at Florence, the honorable George P. Marsh, declined to give any assurance for the surrender of Surratt should he be arrested within their jurisdiction, except upon conditions, which, as Mr. Marsh wrote to me, he greatly doubted whether our government would accept. The Papal government, on the contrary, attached no conditions whatever to their promised surrender of the fugitive upon my expected demand. The sudden withdrawal of our representative now, when, as many believe, the hours of the Papal government are numbered, seems scarcely a generous return for this friendly conduct on their part towards the American government and people.

The present aspect of European affairs is especially threatening. In the east the old quarrel between the crescent and the cross has recently revived, and is daily gaining larger proportions. France, while loudly proclaiming peace, is calling under her eagle a million and a half of men. The King of Prussia, in the speech just delivered to his new Parliament, assumes the character, though not yet wearing the title, of Emperor of Germany. Austria, by fresh concessions to Hungary, is preparing, as in the days of Maria Theresa, to rally that gallant people to the defence of her territory and throne. Italy is in a ferment, and the revolution threatens Rome. It is hardly possible that six months should elapse without a violent, perhaps a general convulsion. Is this the time to withdraw from Rome the American minister? Is it magnanimous in us to abandon the sovereign Pontiff in this hour of his waning fortunes? Shall we be the first among civilized and Christian nations to strike this blow at the Holy [Page 705] See? Are we to leave hundreds of our fellow-citizens to the possible chance of encountering the revolution face to face, and without a representative to vindicate their rights and protect their interests, and it may be their property and persons?

It has been intimated in some quarters that the closing of the American legation here, though ostensibly caused by the rumored suppression of Protestant worship in Rome, was really designed as an indirect recognition of the right and title of Victor Emanuel to the whole of Italy. But I am unwilling to believe that Congress would attempt to accomplish by indirection what it hesitates to do directly. The United States has no need to resort to subterfuge. If the time has come for formally recognizing the Kingdom of Itally, as one and indivisible, with Victor Emanuel for its sovereign and Rome for its capital and centre, there can be no necessity of founding upon a false pretext an act which we have the right, if we deem it politic and proper, to perform openly and in the eyes of all the world. If we are to withdraw our recognition of the temporal power of the Pope and to recall the American representative at the Papal court, at the moment when it stands most in need of our friendly sympathy, I trust, as indeed I do not doubt, that it will be done upon grounds and in a manner that will reflect no discredit upon our own country and leave no just cause of complaint to the governments of Europe.

I am reminded by the date of this despatch that the term of the present Congress will expire within four days. Long, therefore, before it can reach Washington, the question as to the suppression or continuance of the Roman mission will have been definitely settled. It is not, therefore, with any expectation of influencing the result that I have ventured to submit the foregoing considerations, but solely to place on record some of the reasons why in my humble judgment this is not the time for recalling the American representative from the Papal court, and withdrawing to that extent our recognition of the Holy Father’s temporal authority.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.