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Garibaldi And Lincoln
Would the great fighter come over for the Union? Italian freedom and lead troops Lincoln hoped so
October 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 6
In the middle of the last century the New York papers and Boston magazines launched ideas and set styles that had enormous influence. A long article had appeared in The North American Review for January, 1861, titled “Giuseppe Garibaldi.” It was written by Henry T. Tuckerman, author of Italian travel books, who had met the hero. The unsigned article in the Boston publication called Garibaldi “one of Nature’s noblemen” and quoted him in grand language: “I never despaired of Italy; he who despairs is a coward.”
When the article reached faraway Caprera, Garibaldi asked one of his closest friends, Colonel Augusto Vecchi, to write a letter of thanks on his behalf for the glowing tribute. Vecchi did so and enclosed a personal letter suggesting that Garibaldi ought to be invited to lend his generalship in behalf of the Union. Having thus exported the idea to America, Vecchi introduced it locally. One evening, sitting around the dinner table with Garibaldi and a few other exiled veterans of the Thousand who had conquered Sicily the year before, he made an open proposal. All eyes turned to Garibaldi, in hope and fear. He responded by thanking Vecchi for making the suggestion and revealed that he had been thinking of such a role for himself—and more besides. “North Americans are a proud people and would receive with bad grace foreign aid that was uninvited,” Garibaldi said. “But our undertaking would be a noble one and greater than you suppose. The battle will be brief, the enemy has been weakened by his vices, and disarmed by his conscience. From America we shall go on to the Antilles.” He envisioned campaigns to free men in bondage all over the Americas.
Rumors began to be reported on both sides of the Atlantic that Garibaldi contemplated going to the United States, this time in glory. Suddenly an informal offer was made by a self-seeking American consul in Antwerp named James W. Quiggle. Mr. Quiggle was a Pennsylvania lawyer and politician. He had been appointed by President Buchanan and now, like other Democratic Party officials, was being recalled and slowly winding up his affairs. Yet he was trying to hang on by engineering letters in his favor and touring European capitals to gain support. While in Italy, Quiggle and his wife, Cordelia, were introduced to General Garibaldi, and this became their ticket to temporary fame.
On June 8, 1861, Quiggle made the first pass in a letter from Antwerp to Caprera. “General Garibaldi,” he wrote:
Quiggle had nothing to lose by offering to resign, since he was already on the way out. But the general took him seriously enough to make a tentative reply and also to get to the heart of the matter so far as he was concerned: slavery.
“My dear friend,” Garibaldi wrote on June 27, 1861, “the news given in the journals that I am going to the United States is not exact. I have had, and still have, a great desire to go, but many causes prevent me. If, however, in writing to your Government, [you find that] they believe my service to be of some use, I would go to America, if I did not find myself occupied in the defense of my country.” And in a somewhat awkward but pointed sentence Garibaldi asked: “Tell me, also, whether this agitation is the emancipation of the negroes or not?”
Garibaldi concluded his letter by saying that he would be happy to be Quiggle’s companion in a war in which he would take part “by duty as well as sympathy.”
The matter of freedom for slaves was one that had occupied Garibaldi’s mind and sword arm for many years. When a young man he had fought as a revolutionary leader in South America; he had lived with and married a woman of mixed Indian and Portuguese blood and as a widower worshipped her memory. Released Negro slaves had served under his command in Brazil and Uruguay. On the subject of slavery he was as fiery as John Brown, whose actions he had admired, and his long-held attitude transcended race: “Every man is like myself. I am like every other man.”
Quiggle’s reply to Garibaldi, written without consulting his superiors in Washington, was ambiguous. “You propound the question whether the present war in the United States is to emancipate the negroes from slavery?” Quiggle wrote from Antwerp on July 4, 1861: