No. 276.
Mr. Wurts to Mr. Evarts.

No. 850.]

Sir: Upon the receipt of your circular instruction No. 686, of August 9, 1879, relating to the Mormon emigration into the United States, I communicated the substance of it in a note to the ministry of foreign affairs. I have since had conversations on the subject with Mr. Cairoli, prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, and Count Maffei, secretary-general of the ministry of foreign affairs.

While expressing interest in a question which has aroused the serious attention of a friendly power, and sympathy with the efforts of our government to check the evil, the minister congratulated himself that the circular had no apparent application to this country. At the same time he did not hesitate to say that all civilized Christian powers should cooperate to terminate the existence of a sect whose tenets are contrary to the recognized laws of morality and decency.

It can readily be said that Mormonism is unknown in Italy. From all the information gathered, it results that no movement of the kind has ever been undertaken in this country. The only instance we have known here of the presence of any Mormon, either as preacher or proselyte, even as a visitor, was last year, when three compatriots calling themselves Mormon elders passed through Rome on their way to Jerusalem.

The Mormon creed is not one likely to prove attractive to the people of Italy, who, ill-disposed to permanently quit their native land, only do so when driven out by misery and the hopelessness of bettering their condition in it, and they rarely leave with the determination of never returning.

Few Italian emigrants go to the United States. During the fifty years from 1820 to 1870 less than 48,000 left Italy for North America, and many afterwards returned.*

[Page 602]

The dream of the Italian emigrant is to come back to his birth-place with sufficient fortune to insure the rest of his days in ease and plenty. With this cherished hope constantly in mind, he would feel little inclination to embrace a faith and adhere to dogmas which would close the door to his return; and while he would not be deterred from joining the Mormons, or any other denomination, if sufficient inducement was offered, the most tempting promises of material advantage held out by their emmissaries would have slight influence upon him at the price of perpetual exile.

The Italian of to day is not easily worked upon from the religious point of view; religious enthusiasm is at a low ebb in Italy, and as a people the modern Italian is singularly indifferent to appeals of this kind.

To this general rule, however, an exception should be made in a case which last year attracted much attention by reason of the tragic end of the so-called prophet, Davide Lazzaretti, a sort of John of Leyden of the nineteenth century, who had been able to found a sect over whom he exercised unbounded sway; and the fact that he was clever enough to gather about him several thousand followers is a proof that the absurdity and immorality of Mormon teachings would not alone prevent their acceptance by the same class who became ardent believers in the divine mission of the carter of Arcidosso.

At the present moment, in view of our Mormon difficulty, an account of this extraordinary mania, which took possession of a large part of a rural population, may not be wanting in interest, as an indication of the moral and political condition of this people. I beg, therefore, to submit a brief statement of the facts as found in the relation of Signor Caranaggio, inspector at the ministry of the interior, who was sent by government to investigate the circumstances attending the death of the prophet of Monte Labbro.

Davide Lazzaretti was born of most humble parents in Arcidosso, Central Italy, between Siena and Grossetto, in 1834; his father was a carter, and he pursued the same calling. Tall and powerfully made, quick-tempered, violent, and incorrigibly blasphemous, he made for himself a bad name at an early age. It was after having finished his service in the army that he came across the literature which turned his head, and was the cause of his hallucination: “He attempted to imitate the classics, wrote poetry, dramas, and essays, in which poetry, grammar, orthography, and common-sense were equally wanting;” he pretended to have visions—revelations of the most marvelous character were made to him. At the request of an eminent prelate of the Church of Rome, he put these into writing, and, it is asserted, they obtained for him admission to the presence of the Pope. After this he retired into a hermitage (1868–’69), when the visions and apparitions of angels, madonnas, and saints continued, revealing to him the greatness of his future and the gift of prophecy. Meanwhile his fame spread about Arcidosso; many peasants, even of the better class, declared their belief in this impostor as a prophet, so that on his return home he was met by crowds of persons, upon whom his solemn bearing, his long unkempt beard, but, above all, the mark on his forehead,* stamped there, he averred, by Saint Peter, made a profound impression., He built by voluntary aid a church, tower, and hermitage at Arcidosso, and this church was opened for divine service with the full authorization of the bishop of Montalcino. In 1870 [Page 603] he announced his departure for unknown regions, to there expiate the wickedness of others, and render himself worthy of listening to the voice of God. In fact, he withdrew to the island of Monte Cristo, where, with his visions and conversations with the Almighty, he fanaticized the few fishermen of the place. A few weeks after he returned to the mainland, and on his arrival at Santo Stefano so great was the commotion and excitement among the people that the local authorities were obliged to request him to leave. This state of things continued for some years. The central government was fully informed of its phases, and so long as order was maintained Lazzaretti was little interfered with. He was once arrested for treasonable expressions in his speeches and writings, but the suit was dismissed. Later another accusation was brought against him, that of obtaining money under false pretenses, large sums having been raised for his use among his followers, many of them having in their devotion sacrificed their all. On this occasion he was defended by a person of most respectable condition, formerly attorney-general under the grand duke of Tuscany, who publicly manifested to Lazzaretti the honor and affection in which he held him. This suit was also dismissed.

In 1874 he was again brought to trial on the same charges, and was condemned as a vagabond and cheat; but the court of appeals afterwards acquitted him. He then emigrated to France, where he remained until the year 1878; and, although during his absence the propaganda of his doctrines was kept alive by his adherents, he would probably have been forgotten had he not suddenly reappeared in the month of March, prepared for new struggles and energetic action. At this period unusual agitation was observed among his proselytes; the principles of communism, secretly spread during the past years under evangelical aspect and carried out by force of their social statute, were openly proclaimed by the sect.

It is really strange [writes Signer Caranaggio] to note how Lazzaretti, until this time in entire accord with clerical reaction and the ecclesiastical authorities, notwithstanding his schemes of reform in the rights of the Catholic religion here and there specified in his hooks, it is strange to note how Lazzaretti now changed his tactics, loudly combating certain dogmas of Catholicism, and manifesting the utmost hatred towards the Catholic Church, which he called the abominable sect of papal idolatry.

On the morning of August 18, 1878, with the ringing of bells and the singing of hymns by a population excited to fanaticism, a red banner, with the motto “La Republica è il Regno di Dio,” was raised on the tower of Monte Labbro. A mob, variously estimated at from 1,500 to 3,000 men, women, and children, thereupon descended the hill, in triple file, waving flags; to those without flags, Lazzaretti had given red crosses with the two C’s reversed, symbolical, according to the interpretation of the prophet, of the ruin of the people and of the deluge of blood. As the crowd increased, the general alarm, already great, became greater; shops, public houses, even the doors and windows of private dwellings, were hastily closed. Fathers of families armed to defend their hearths; women and childen, overcome by fright, recommended themselves to all the saints in heaven. The delegato di sucurezza publica (chief of police) and the mayor, followed by a body of carabineers, then met the crowd, and, at great personal risk, exhorted them to disperse; but no persuasion had any effect. Upon this, the mayor having retired, the delegato formally summoned Lazzaretti and his mob to disband; and not only even the three summons required by law, but four. To this Lazzaretti replied, as is well known, calling upon the delegato and the carabineers to surrender their arms; and exciting the mob with the cry, “I am the King! People, forward; defend me; disarm them!” he attacked the delegato, striking him on the head with a stick, while his companions saluted this officer and the carbineers with a shower of stones.

At this point the order was given to fire. Davide Lazzaretti fell instantly killed, and many of his rabble were wounded.

The doctrines of Lazzaretti can be thus summarized. In the early part of his career he professed the utmost devotion to the Church of Rome; his writings were all of an ascetic form. Only in the year 1870, after recognition of his prophetic powers, did his political and social action commence.

[Page 604]

His religious code consisted of ten chapters, the most important of which were:

  • Article. 1. The Holy Pontiff of Rome, the legitimate vicar of Christ, shall be recognized as king and monarch above all other kings and monarchs on earth. He shall be the only judge in the strifes and secular troubles among us, peoples and nations. Every temporal, legislative, as well as spiritual body shall be under him.
  • Art. 3. All church and state property shall be at the disposition of his Pontifical Holiness.
  • Art. 7. The arms and emblems of the nation shall be those of the Pontiff.

His political code was in thirteen chapters. The tributary system very expeditious; all citizens, except priests, monks, and nuns, and those under twenty or over seventy-five years of age, to pay a tax of from 50 centimes to 6 francs, according to their class, women paying a half tax. The education of children confided to the religious orders; the liberty of the press restricted; public and private concubinage severely prohibited; adultery punished according to the will of one or the other of the couple, even to confinement for life.

His civil code was in twelve articles, relating to taxation, fishing rights, &c.

Neither the spirit of liberty nor of progress was conspicuous in those laws, of which the carter Lazzaretti was certainly not the author.

And, as will be seen by this extract, nothing in common existed between the creed of the prophet of Monte Labbro and that of our Mormon brethren.

Since the death of their leader the sect has not been heard of, and though many of his disciples about Arcidosso remain faithful, it is said, to his memory and teachings, it is believed that his ideas will not long survive him.

In my conversation, with Mr. Cairoli, I took occasion to allude to the aforerelated episode, and remarked that, though there is no cause to apprehended a Mormon crusade in Italy, where as yet Mormonism is unknown, it indicated the possibility of the Italian people being led astray by the enticements of emissaries who might instil into them the spirit of religious exaltation which would blind them to every sense of reason and of right.

I have the honor to be, &c.,

Chargé d’Affaires.
  1. Young: Labor in Europe and America, page 626.
  2. C, two C’s reversed, with a cross between. Besides this mark on the forehead, there were two others on his shoulders and two on his legs.