Garibaldi And Lincoln


In England, with its Confederate sympathizers, the American minister, Charles Francis Adams, was troubled by the strange and unprofessional manner of the negotiations. In his diary he noted that “the King [Victor Emmanuel] is too wary to be drawn into the trap” and “Garibaldi is mortified at the failure of his scheme.” The plan faltered, in Adams’ private opinion, because Garibaldi could not think of going to America “without having the power of a Dictator.” As for his superior in Washington, he wrote in his diary that Secretary Seward betrayed two flaws of personality in conducting the negotiations: “One, a want of systematic and dignified operation in the opinion of the world—the other, an admixture of that earthly taint which comes from early training in the school of New York politics.” The more proper Bostonian considered the impossible conditions erected by Garibaldi “a lucky escape” for the Lincoln administration.

In the British press there was sarcasm and disdain. Cartoons in Punch by John Tenniel (who calmed down later when illustrating Alice in Wonderland ) ridiculed the President as a juggler and pool player with his military forces. The Times of London declared:

The Americans—certainly the Northern States—have yet to learn the art of war. As if despairing of native genius or enterprise, President Lincoln has actually sent to ask Garibaldi to accept the post of Commander-in-Chief, throwing into the bargain the emancipation of the slaves.

President Lincoln and Secretary Seward—not to mention the stalled American generals along the Potomac—read these British comments because they were widely reprinted in the United States. Meanwhile the New York papers had their say: the World was enthusiastic at the thought that Garibaldi might come to help the Union cause; the Herald took the opposite stance, while the New York Times , assuming a posture occasionally taken since on other issues, played it down the middle: “… we trust the war will not continue long enough to render his coming necessary.”

But the war and the search for a fighting general went on; a year after Bull Run there still were no bulletins of victory issued by the United States. Princes and adventurers sought entry into the Union ranks. Secretary Seward, responding to Marsh in Italy, encouraged foreign “friends of freedom” to cross the Atlantic and join compatriots in Blue. A regiment of Americans of Italian descent, recruited in New York, called itself the “Garibaldi Guard” and included “all the organ grinders of the city,” according to a laudatory editorial in the New York Herald . They went marching off with haversacks stuffed with cheese, wine, and Bologna sausages, paraded on the double-quick in front of the White House, and crossed the Long Bridge to do battle in Virginia.

Now came a second pass at General Garibaldi, again from a faraway consulate and again without permission from President Lincoln and Secretary Seward.

This time it originated not with a politician trying to hang on to his post in Antwerp but with an old friend of Lincoln’s from Illinois. Theodore Canisius, the American consul in Vienna, was in fact more than a friend: he had been the Springfield lawyer’s secret partner in the ownership of a newspaper. Canisius had been the editor of a German-language newspaper in Alton which was operating at a loss. He moved it to Springfield, where it became the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger . A contract between Lincoln and Canisius called for the paper to print articles in German and English that followed the Republican party line; otherwise Lincoln could at his own option take possession of the press and type. Canisius carried out the bargain, helped to obtain German votes in Illinois, and received full ownership after Lincoln was elected President. He was rewarded with the job of consul in Vienna, Lincoln telling Seward that “the place is but $1,000, and not much sought.”

On September 1, 1862, Consul Canisius wrote to General Garibaldi:

… I am taking the liberty of addressing to you the present in order to ascertain whether it might not enter into your plans to offer us your valorous arm in the struggle which we are carrying on for the liberty and unity of our great republic. … The honor and enthusiasm with which you would be received in our country, where you have passed a portion of your life, would be immense, and your mission, which would be that of inducing our brave soldiers to fight for the same principle to which you have nobly consecrated all your existence, would accord fully with your views.

When Garibaldi received this letter, he was carrying a bullet in his foot, the result of an abortive new attempt to march on Rome. He had been stopped by the king’s men after a skirmish, and arrested. From a fort at Varignano he replied to Canisius two weeks later with a half-encouraging letter: