Daniele Fiorentino: The US and the Roman Republic of 1849

As part of the events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Italian unification, the Guarini Institute invited prof. Daniele Fiorentino, a leading Italian scholar of U.S. history, to share the results of his current research about the connections between the two countries in the period of the 1848-49 Roman Republic.

In that biennium, the presence of Americans in Italy was meaningful. As the “Grand Tour” was becoming a feature also for American learned youth, the international circulation of liberal ideas had its impact. Since the 1830s, the U.S. was able to have an eye on Italy also thanks to Pietro Maroncelli, an Italian patriot, who brought with him in the US “My Prisons,” a book written by Silvio Pellico. This enabled Italian liberal ideals and aspirations to circulate in the United States. On the other hand, in this period, Italian intellectuals looked at the U.S. and its federal system as a potential model for a new and unified Italy. A prominent representative of this current of train of thought was Carlo Cattaneo, an Italian patriot and a federalist.

Among other examples of the support many Americans showed for the Italian struggle for independence, stands the 1847 New York Tabernacle demonstration, which drew several prominent liberal politicians to publicly show their support to Italy’s claims for unification.

Transcendentalist writer Margaret Fuller, fashioned herself a correspondent of the “New York Daily Tribune.” Once in Rome, she sent not only regular correspondence on the events unfolding in the Roman Republic, but contributed to its efforts. During the siege of the city she was appointed as supervisor of one of the Roman hospitals. Together with Cristina Trivulzio di Belgioioso she was one of the female protagonists of those events. The biennium 1846/1848 was a very difficult period also for the U.S., involved as it was in the war with Mexico, which ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 assigning to the U.S. the entire Southwest.

In 1848, the U.S. decided to send a representative to Rome who was expected to develop better relations with the Papal state. Lewis Cass Jr. was the new chargè who tried to act as a mediator but ended up sympathizing with the Republic. Moreover, Nicholas Brown III, U.S. Consul in Rome since 1845, openly took the side of the rebellion. Although Mazzini did not like this figure, he ended up realizing the relevance of the support given by Americans in the months of the republican experience in the eternal city.

Initially, the U.S. adopted a policy of non involvement in European affairs and did not recognize the Republic, but eventually delegated to Cass any decision in this sense. In the last two months of the Republic, he changed his neutral position to an active one and thought that the U.S. should recognize the Republic. He offered to mediate between Garibaldi and the French General, unfortunately when Secretary of State John Clayton finally answered Cass’ requests, stating he could act as he deemed proper it was too late; the Republic had already fallen.

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