Garibaldi And Lincoln


He said that the only way in which he could render real service, as he ardently desired to do, to the cause of the United States, was as Commander in Chief of its forces; that he would only go as such and with the additional contingent power—to be governed by events—of declaring the abolition of slavery. He would be of little use, he said, without the first and, without the second, the war would appear to be like any civil war in which the world at large could have little interest or sympathy. I observed to him that the President had no such powers to confer; that I had been authorized to communicate with him on the subject of his letter to our consul at Antwerp confidentially, and if found acceptable to offer him a commission of Major General, which I doubted not would carry with it the command of a large corps d’armée to conduct in his own way within certain limits in the prosecution of the war.

Sanford explained that he was only empowered to offer the two-star generalship as set forth by Secretary Seward, and he could not go beyond it. He reported that Garibaldi was “flattered by the evidence of appreciation and grateful for the friendly sentiments manifested by the President and yourself” but refused to take service except as commander in chief. Sanford then said that he had made the suggestion of a visit to the United States to see conditions for himself and the character of the struggle, offering to underwrite such a trip for the general and his aides. But to this Garibaldi responded by saying that he would not dare to make such a visit because, as “an adopted citizen” of the United States, once on American soil “he could not be able to resist the temptation to throw himself in the foremost ranks, even as a private soldier.”


At his legation in Turin, Marsh consoled Sanfbrd and said that he had carried out his assignment with prudence and skill, even though Garibaldi’s services had not been obtained. To Secretary Seward he wrote that Sanford could not offer terms beyond his authorization and anyway the American government would not be inclined to give Garibaldi total command of all armed forces. And he added an abolitionist point—which may also have been shown to President Lincoln—about Garibaldi’s stand:

He thinks the parties are contending about purely material interests, and holds that neither of them has superior claims upon the sympathies of the European friends of liberty and of progress. … I do not believe he will take any part in the struggle unless he is convinced that the government and the people of the North are united in the determination to pursue a policy which shall necessarily result in the abolition of slavery.

The ubiquitous Quiggle, hearing of the failure of the Sanford mission, now tried to fix blame and protect his original idea. “I did not accompany Mr. Sanford on his mission to Caprera,” he wrote to Secretary Seward, implying that he should have. “I am sure that if secrecy had been maintained, as it should have been, Garibaldi would now be on his way to the United States.” Secrecy was difficult if not impossible when even Mrs. Quiggle was writing polite billets-doux to Garibaldi, and aides to all the concerned parties were lending advice and looking out for their own interests.

Garibaldi’s talkative comrades on Gaprera shared their knowledge of the offer with the press in Italy and France, and soon the London and New York newspapers reported the rumors with fair accuracy. The general’s followers felt that news of the American offer would push the Turin government into military action toward battles of unification—led by Garibaldi.

With the story largely out in the open, commentators reacted freely both in Europe and in America. In Italy scores of petitions were published in newspapers urging Garibaldi not to leave. If Garibaldi and his staff went to America, wondered L’Armonia of Turin, “what would become of Italy?” L’Unita Italiana of Milan addressed an open letter to Garibaldi:

General, do not go to America. The people here have faith in you, and you must have faith in them. The unity of Italy is far from being accomplished. You have laid its most solid foundation. You alone can complete the work. General, do not doubt of your mission, and be convinced that the Italian people will not show themselves unworthy of you. We are waiting for you, General, to lead us to Rome.