He orders the appointment of a U.S. emissary to the Vatican to deal directly with the Pope and his Secretary of State.
The Papal States were territories in Italy ruled by the Pope until 1870, when the last of them were merged into the Italian nation. The post of U.S. envoy to the Pope’s domains had not traditionally been a major one (in fact, the office had only been raised to the rank of...
The Papal States were territories in Italy ruled by the Pope until 1870, when the last of them were merged into the Italian nation. The post of U.S. envoy to the Pope’s domains had not traditionally been a major one (in fact, the office had only been raised to the rank of a resident ministry in 1854). That situation changed with the advent of the Civil War, in which hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers would be Roman Catholics. As Irishmen, Germans, and other Catholics flocked to the U.S. colors, President Lincoln realized that he needed to enlist the cooperation of the Church in the U.S., in order to encourage (or at least not hinder) recruitment, and to provide solace to the soldiers in the field and their grieving friends and family back home. The Church in the North encouraged priests to serve as chaplains and Catholic women to serve as nurses, taking the position best articulated by New York’s archbishop, John Hughes: “There is but one rule for a Catholic wherever he is, and that is, to do his duty there as a citizen.” This, while hardly an endorsement to the war, was sufficient for Lincoln’s purposes. In the end, over 200,000 Catholics would wear the blue during the war, and mostly-Catholic units like the Irish Brigade became legendary.
But Lincoln knew that the Church in the U.S. would look to Rome for leadership, so it became a matter of urgency to to enlist the Pope’s support for the U.S. Church’s position, or at the very least his neutrality. That meant that the U.S. would need to proceed diplomatically, approaching the Pope through its emissary to the Papal States. Before the war broke out, Lincoln had named Rufus King to the post, but before assuming it the war started and King left to join the Union Army, where he was appointed general and raised the famed Iron Brigade. King then recommended Wisconsin Governor Alexander W. Randall to replace him in Rome. Randall had been instrumental in raising and organizing the first Wisconsin volunteer troops for the Union Army, and had just ended his term as governor. Lincoln liked the choice, and gave Randall the post. Randall’s job was to forestall papal recognition of, or even positive gestures toward, the Confederacy. Randall understood the importance of his task, writing Secretary of State William H. Seward,“The Church of Rome, notwithstanding its difficulties…wields, as you are aware, an immense power in Europe and the British Empire.” Seward and Randall sought to convince the Pope that the United States and the Holy See enjoyed a “special relationship.”
Document Signed as President, Washington, April 7, 1862, being the original order to appoint Randall as American Minister Resident to Pope Pius IX. “I 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.” This is a very rare document signed by Lincoln relating to the Roman Catholic Church, and our first in decades in this field.
Randall served in this role from April 1862 until the fall of 1863. In his first audience with the Pope, on June 6, 1862, Randall alluded to the services of Archbishop Hughes in behalf of the Union cause. The Pope expressed pride in the thought that at this most critical moment Hughes had been singled out for praise by his country. Afterwards, Cardinal Antonelli, Pius’s Secretary of State, assured him that the Pope would not interfere in American affairs. The Holy Father stated that much as he deprecated the war, he could never lend any sanction to the system of African slavery. Then, in late 1862, Pius IX wrote to the archbishops of New York and New Orleans – the highest church officials, respectively, within the Union and Confederate camps – urging them to promote a peaceful resolution to the war. Though not taking a controversial position, this action showed the Pope’s unease with the war.
When Randall left Rome, Lincoln appointed him as assistant Postmaster General; he was elevated to Postmaster General in 1866 by President Andrew Johnson.
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